Wednesday, 19 December 2018

‘Older me’ and ‘younger me’ can’t agree on Becca

I’M worried that I’ve become a miserable old git. Why else, when I’m surrounded by wildly

I’M worried that I’ve become a miserable old git. Why else, when I’m surrounded by wildly enthusiastic young people clapping and cheering, would I sit there wondering what’s going on?

So, I’m going to review Kneehigh’s Rebecca through the eyes of my younger self — my teenaged open-minded, open-armed self who would cheer at rule-breaking, mould-breaking and wild ideas.

Then everything becomes clear. Kneehigh’s way of putting on a classic play is to throw everything at it — whether or not it’s relevant. But somehow the story still manages to come through.

So this version starts with some beautiful tenor singing, dry ice and a bare, a beaten up Manderley and the newly minted Mrs de Winter stumbling down a broken staircase, telling us she dreamed of the place last night.

After that we’re off to the circus as the entire cast go into the sea shanty Blood Red Roses — whoa, what’s all that about?



Never mind, no time to bother with that as we meet two previously minor characters in De Winter’s sister and brother-in-law — two hedonists who might define the word.

They flail about the stage, particularly sister Beatrice, in a leggy display that ends with some highly suggestive gestures to a puppet dog — no time to explain because we’re straight into the classic folk song Sally Free and Easy with accompanying musicians.

Finally we meet properly the new Mrs de Winter and her taciturn, cold husband — a man with agony etched into every crease of his forehead.

Time for the real drama to commence? Kind of, but there’s still time for a comic turn in the shape of Robert the servant — a puppyish youngster who enters to a shower of glitter and then races about the place answering the phone and generally jumping about.

It turns out that Manderley must hold a party, which is the cue for more music and debauchery. But the devilish housekeeper Mrs Danvers has laid a trap for the new Mrs de Winter — she suggests a very revealing dress from the harlot who previously occupied the post.

She appears in it at the party and causes fury to close the first act.

So far, so manic, but my teenaged self was loving this, as were the 90 per cent of the audience surrounding me who were on school trips.

Kneehigh have it in their mission statement to be anarchic and what teenager doesn’t want to overthrow the old regime and its fuddy-duddy ways?

The second act, then: the first 10 minutes is taken up with a moderately good dance while the musicians play a straight version of Sweet Georgia Brown. Quite why, we’ll probably never know. If you have to ask then you don’t get it.

Then we start getting to the drama proper as the relationships with Danvers, Rebecca, various lovers and a sunken sailing dinghy come out.

Now the unexplained songs at the opening start to make more sense as they are used again, but this time to illustrate Rebecca’s character — free and easy — and the nature of her death — (Go Down You) Blood Red Roses.

The second half contains more drama — that should read melodrama — and fewer irrelevancies, but there’s still a sense that no one is taking this very seriously.

So my teenaged self is happy with that — nay, ecstatic. It’s one up for the revolution — the old curmudgeons have been dealt a mortal blow, the youthful message is clear: “It’s not your world any more.”

But what about the old curmudgeon who sat down in his seat at the beginning of the show?

He’d better not say. He doesn’t want to be left behind in this brave new world.

Review: Mike Rowbottom



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