From the opening few minutes – where a body, followed closely by a life-size rowing boat, descends slowly from the roof top – you sense this production may be something special. The luxurious yet untamed set, complete with steps and wild rocks cascading down the stage, has plenty more tricks to perform. I'd say it's the star of the show.
With Rebecca, Kneehigh stay honourably close to Daphne du Maurier's famous story about the impact jealousy can have on rationality. Set on the wild Cornish coastline, we quickly understand that Maxim de Winter (Tristan Sturrock) has remarried less than a year after his first wife, Rebecca, was found drowned. The new Mrs de Winter seems very much in the deceased Rebecca's shadow: actor Imogen Sage does an excellent job creating a timid, under-confident character. And this forgettable new wife faces the difficult task of winning people over, amongst them the unforgiving Mrs Danvers (Emily Raymond), who has a dark secret of her own to hide.
There is obviously trouble ahead, and as the drama unfolds, we learn about the secrets and lies that have haunted the household. But there is some lightness to complement the tension, with Lizzie Winkler and Andy Williams creating a convincing upper-crust couple with more interest in each other (and the wine) than the people around them. Moments with footman Robert, played brilliantly by Katy Owen, circle the stage like a miniature whirlwind – offering a complete contrast to the staid and uptight principal characters.
The action is punctuated throughout with live music and haunting sea shanties, sung and accompanied by the talented cast of Kneehigh. I particularly appreciated the transitions here, as the actors seamlessly moved between spoken dialogue and music. There is some excellent puppetry too, including an adorably-characterised Labrador puppy and scarily life-like birds.
But, although the acting was strong in places, there was a little too much angst and shouting for my taste. Less might be more: Mrs Danvers, in particular, was not quite terrifying or menacing enough to convince me that Mrs de Winter should be that afraid. And, while the first half flowed quite smoothly, after the interval I found the action bound up in too much detail. It was a little too wordy, as if far too much was trying to squeeze into the last forty-five minutes or so.
Nonetheless, Kneehigh have once again made their own mark on a well loved and equally well known piece of literature. Avid fans of one of our best-loved storytellers will no doubt be pleased with this interpretation.