This musical adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s novel became a mammoth success in Austria where it was first staged in 2006. The gothic tale of marriage between a naive young woman (Emily Apps) and a rich widower, Maxim de Winter (Richard Carson), who appears to be haunted by his devastatingly beautiful late wife, Rebecca, incorporates 22 songs by German-language composers Michael Kunze and Sylvester Levay. They are translated into English here by Kunze and Christopher Hampton.
It is hard to cast aside Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 film (even with Ben Wheatley’s recent Netflix version in the mix) but, visually, this musical makes its mark. Shadow play and watery surges around De Winter’s Cornish estate, Manderley, are captured beautifully through Matt Powell’s projections. Together with Nicky Shaw’s quickly re-forming set design, bedrooms morph into moonlit trees or cauldron-like ocean waves.
The songs add to the atmosphere and the duets between the central couple, such as Help Me Face the Night, are sweet although there is really only one ballad that sticks, Rebecca, sung by lugubrious housekeeper, Mrs Danvers (Kara Lane).
Under the direction of Alejandro Bonatto, the performances are polished – a feat given the recent spate of cancellations due to sickness in the company. Apps takes over from Lauren Jones as the young wife and brings a lovely lilting voice to her role. There is not always enough body to her character’s vulnerabilities though; she is played simply, blandly, as an innocent, and her assertion over Danvers comes a little late in the song Mrs De Winter Is Me. Carson, meanwhile, is a cardboard figure as Maxim, barely known and given flimsy lines in Kunze’s book, adapted by Hampton.
The first half takes us through the story briskly, the central romance too quickly handled and functional to the plot. But intrigue sets in after that and the twist is delivered well.
The standout is Lane who makes Danvers a powerful force, creepily obsessed with her former mistress. Her relationship with the callow second Mrs De Winter and the morbid triad between the women, including the absent Rebecca, contains enough grip and tension for its own potential spin-off.
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