Kneehigh brings thrilling Rebecca on tour to Wycombe Swan

Emma Rice & Kit Browning
Emma Rice & Kits Browning

It’s back to Manderley next week when Kneehigh Theatre bring’s its stunning new production of Rebecca to Wycombe Swan.

Here Daphne Du Maurier’s son, Kits Browning, and Kneehigh artistic director Emma Rice, discuss the project.

By any standards Rebecca is a classic of popular literature. It continues to do a brisk trade and it has reportedly never been out of print since it was published in 1938.

But as Kits Browning, the son of Rebecca author Daphne du Maurier, points out, Rebecca’s popularity doesn’t mean that any adaptation of the book should be reverential, preserving the book in aspic.

“After so many years, I believe that a new approach is called for and you have to turn Rebecca on its head slightly.

“I think that it’s due for another go and Kneehigh are the people to give Rebecca a very contemporary production.

“My mother would get very cross when people called Rebecca a romance, although she did concede that Frenchman’s Creek, another of her books, was a romance.

“I think that she didn’t want her work to be compared with the kind of books somebody like Barbara Cartland was writing because hers was a very different genre.

“Even today, people find it hard to square the author of Rebecca with the person who wrote The Birds or Don’t Look Now.

However, Daphne took great pleasure in the success of the book. She was very proud of it and amazed by its impact.”

Rebecca. Images by Steve Tanner
Rebecca. Images by Steve Tanner

Manderley is an amalgam of two houses. To put it simply, the look of Manderley is based on Milton, a property near Peterborough which Daphne du Maurier had visited and where she had seen the model for Mrs Danvers.

“The location of Manderley, however, was inspired by Menabilly. Its lawns, its thick woodland and its coves must have provided an idyllic playground for Kit and his two older sisters.

Kits admits to not having read Rebecca until he was a young man, preferring more traditional schoolboy fare.

“I was more of a Biggles fan, as was my father,” he reveals. “And I didn’t realise how famous Rebecca was until I saw the Hitchcock film version sometime in the 1950s”.

Emma Rice, Kneehigh’s artistic director, told Stage Review: “I’d been thinking about Daphne du Maurier for some time.

“Daphne and Kneehigh share a Cornish connection and it felt that a piece based on one of her writings was long overdue. I’d been looking at the short stories when producer David Pugh offered me the perfect apple. ‘How about doing Rebecca?’ he suggested and I nearly left off my feet in excitement.”

Nature in all its moods is a constant theme in Rebecca; the ever-changing weather, the sinister woods that flank the driveway to Manderley, the perpetual roar of the sea.

“Rebecca is elemental, almost a Greek Tragedy in the way Nature is represented,” says Emma. “If you walk along the beach at Menabilly you can almost reach out and touch that sense of the elemental. It’s astonishingly beautiful. Her work is a bit like Cornwall itself – beautiful but threatening as well.”

Rebecca is a gripping whodunit and a social satire, a ghost story as well as a critique of the position of women in twentieth century Britain.

There is also something of a fairy tale in the way that the second Mrs de Winter is whisked away from her tyrannical employer to become the mistress of Manderley.

“It’s Cinderella meets Bluebeard,” says Emma with a smile. “But this Cinderella feels that she is not good enough to be the new Mrs de Winter and what woman has never felt the same?”

“Working on the show has been fun and straightforward and the du Maurier estate has been hugely supportive.

“Audiences coming to Rebecca will see a recognisable 1938 world but with something of a twist.

2015 tour dates

March 9-14, Wycombe Swan
March 16-21, Richmond Theatre
March 23-28, Cambridge Arts Theatre
March 30-April 4, Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury
April 7-11, Lowry Theatre, Salford
April 13-18, Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne
April 20-25, Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
April 27-May 2, Birmingham Repertory Theatre
May 4-9, Malvern Theatres
May 11-16, Theatre Royal, Newcastle.

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