Rebecca, the musical, Charing Cross Theatre, London – A Review
A poster for the musical Rebecca
We finally made it up to London to see the musical of Rebecca at the Charing Cross Theatre!
The English-language adaptation of the Rebecca musical, based on Daphne du Maurier's most famous and hauntingly beautiful novel, premiered in London in early September and runs until 18th November. This musical was first staged in the German language in Vienna in 2006. From there, it has spent the intervening years touring worldwide, appearing in twelve countries and being seen by over two million people. A number of attempts to produce an English-language version in the UK and the US were thwarted. Now, at last, the musical has been translated into English and is being performed on the London stage.
Outside the Charing Cross Theatre, London
The musical of Rebecca includes twenty-two songs produced by German-language composers Michael Kunze and Sylvester Levay. The songs have been translated into English by Michael Kunze and Christopher Hampton, with an eighteen-piece orchestra providing the musical accompaniment to the performance.
Despite the considerable success of the Rebecca musical over many years, I could not quite see how well an English-language adaptation of the musical would work. Snippets of the original German-language performances give me the impression of a very operatic presentation, and I wondered if the narrative of the book would be lost. However, I was hugely impressed with the performance. It exceeded my wildest hopes and was truly sensational.
The story of the novel was told at pace. It is a four-hundred-plus page novel, retold in two and a half hours, which is no mean feat, and yet there was lots of detail, and the story really was fully told. The character of the second Mrs de Winter was referred to throughout as 'I'. Some liberties were taken with Daphne's original story, but that is something which has happened with every reimagining of the novel for stage, cinema and television. Even Daphne's own play, based on her novel, had to make some changes for the plot to work on stage.
A poster for Rebecca on the wall outside the theatre
In the case of the musical, AND HERE ARE SOME SPOILERS, Maxim does not shoot Rebecca, but there is a scuffle and a fatal fall, as in the Hitchcock film adaptation. Similarly, towards the end of the story, 'I' goes to London with Colonel Julian and Jack Favell, while Maxim remains at Manderley, which differs from the novel. Any liberties taken with the original novel were neither overly obvious nor damaging to the plot and probably needed to be realised in order to produce a fluid telling of the tale within the confines of a stage.
I really only have two criticisms. The first is why, oh, why, did the cast persist in calling Manderley, Manderlay? That didn't work for me at all! The second was that when 'I' dropped the valuable china cherub, it bounced instead of breaking. This seemed a ludicrous economy in an otherwise beautiful production!
The cast was, without exception, excellent. Maxim was played by Richard Carson, 'I' by Lauren Jones and Mrs Danvers by Kara Lane. The rest of the cast supported the main characters superbly. One of the most touching things about this storytelling was that Maxim and 'I' were clearly deeply in love. Their happiness in one another's company is something which Daphne touches on in the novel, but it is overlooked in some adaptations. The difference between the couple's happiness from when they marry until they arrive at Manderley, compared with the way the house and Maxim's paranoia crushed that affection is marked and vitally important.
Another delightful touch was the ensemble piece The Brand New Mrs de Winter, during which the servants at Manderley discuss 'I' and how unsuited she is to being the new lady of the house. This was such a fun song and touched on an area not really explained in Daphne's novel. Obviously, in the book, Mrs Danvers is immediately disapproving of 'I', but she would not be in favour of anyone who seemed to be replacing Rebecca. Also, the servant Robert gets into trouble because 'I' does not take responsibility for the broken cupid, resulting in him initially being blamed for the damage. But that is as far as Daphne goes. It would be very natural for the servants to have an opinion about their new mistress. Perhaps Daphne did not delve into this because she was not very aware of the servants having views and opinions about their masters!
Mrs Danvers' love for Rebecca is palpable. Kara Lane plays the role with a perfect balance of obsession for Rebecca and loathing for 'I'. She holds her own beautifully throughout the performance without dominating it. This requires real skill because so often in performances of Rebecca, the character of Mrs Danvers steals the show, and that is really not the intention. She needs to simmer below the surface, spreading fear and doubt while being Rebecca's voice without dominating the story.
Before curtain up at the musical Rebecca, Charing Cross Theatre, London
The Charing Cross Theatre is tiny, with only 263 seats. The seating layout is in two blocks of stalls, with a row of balcony seats at each side. Quite by chance, we sat towards the front of the second block of stalls, and we felt we had two of the best seats because some of the action takes place within the body of the theatre, particularly between the two blocks of seats and so immediately in front of us.
I congratulate the cast, the people responsible for the scenery, the orchestra, Alejandro Bonatto, the director and the producers and creators of the musical. It told the story of Rebecca beautifully; the music was excellent and elegantly woven into the plot, and the atmosphere was spellbinding.
Rebecca, the musical has only a few more days to run, so if you want to see it, and we recommend that you do, book quickly while you still have the chance.
© Ann Willmore, November 2023