Early performances of Rebecca, the play Daphne du Maurier adapted from her novel of the same name
A recent post on the Daphne du Maurier website Forum Page asked about the stage play of Rebecca adapted by Daphne du Maurier from her novel of the same name.
Here is what the forum post said:
A stage play of Rebecca – dramatised by Daphne du Maurier – opened in London on 5 April 1940 with Margaret Rutherford playing Mrs Danvers. I have read elsewhere that the play was in rehearsal in September 1939 when the war began and all theatres were closed. The actress Marda Vanne was in the cast although I don't know what part she was playing. Does anyone know about this production that was postponed because of the war?
When war broke out, on 3 September 1939, the Government immediately closed the theatres because of the fear that they would be hit by bombing. But, gradually, after only a brief period of closure, the rules were relaxed. As a result, theatres opened again and became an important escape for Londoners, a reprieve from their problems.
The Stage newspaper dated 21 September 1939 made this announcement:
I have put together some information about the early productions of Rebecca, which Daphne du Maurier, herself, adapted from her novel during 1939.
I have not been able to find any information to suggest that rehearsals for Rebecca had begun with a cast including Marda Vanne, which was subsequently stopped because of the theatre closures. But, of course, I would be delighted if someone reading this can fill in that gap for us.
The front cover and one of the inside pages of the programme for the premiere of Rebecca, in Manchester
Rebecca premiered at the Opera House, Manchester, on Monday 11 March 1940. The cast starred Celia Johnson as the second Mrs de Winter, Owen Nares as Maxim and Margaret Rutherford as Mrs Danvers. The play ran for six nights in Manchester ahead of a short provincial tour, which included Edinburgh. The play then made its way to London and opened at the Queen's Theatre in the West End on 5 April 1940, with the same cast. However, Celia Johnson withdrew from the cast in July 1940, and Barbara Mullen took her place. The play was popular and successful but was brought to an abrupt end when bombing destroyed the theatre shortly after midnight on Saturday 7 September 1940. The theatre was totally destroyed and remained closed until 1959.
Programme for the original West End run of Rebecca
In 1941 much of the original cast regrouped and took Rebecca on an extended tour throughout the country. Peggy Ashcroft took on the role of the second Mrs de Winter for the tour, and when she became pregnant, Isolde Denham took the role. Both Owen Nares and Margaret Rutherford reprised their roles for the tour.
In the Spring of 1942, the play was reintroduced to the London stage, this time at the Strand Theatre. Owen Nares was again cast in the role of Maxim, but Jill Furse took the part of the second Mrs de Winter and Mrs Danvers was played by Mary Merrall.
Programme from the Strand Theatre run of Rebecca, dated 21st May 1942
I have not been able to find any connection between the actress Marda Vanne and the play Rebecca. She did spend a great deal of the time during WW2 helping to establish the National Theatre of South Africa, returning to the UK after the war to resume her place on the London stage, in Terrance Rattigan's play Adventure Story, in which she played the Queen Mother of Persia.
She does have connections with the Daphne du Maurier and, more particularly, her Daphne's sisters Angela and Jeanne. Jane Dunn's biography of the three du Maurier sisters – Daphne du Maurier and her Sisters: The Hidden Lives of Piffy, Bird and Bing, provides lots of information about Marda Vanne and her relationships with both Angela and Jeanne. Also, interestingly, Daphne used the name Marda as the name for the lead character in the short story The Blue Lenses.
If anyone has information about rehearsals of Rebecca just prior to the beginning of WW2 that were abandoned during the closure of theatres, in the early days of the war, or indeed any information to suggest that Marda Vanne did have a role in the play of Rebecca at any time, please let us know via our email at firstname.lastname@example.org