Rebecca musical review and star rating: ★★
Rebecca is getting a real show of it. A new film adaptation came out during the pandemic, and now the first ever musical in the English language arrives in London. The Netflix film was panned, and this hammy version of the classic Daphne Du Maurier Gothic novel first released in 1938 is unlikely to win many new fans either.
The Rebecca musical was first written in German and premiered in Vienna in 2006. It has been written by three old hands, Sylvester Levay on music, and lyrics by Michael Kunze and Christopher Hampton. They’re each accomplished in their own right, having worked on dozens of musicals, but this production very rarely feels ready for the London stage. There is too much of everything, from the score, to the hammed-up acting and staging, which too often feels drab.
We meet a young woman, simply called ‘I’, who marries a rich aristocrat called Maxim de Winter. Moving into his country home, she has a hostile experience with Mrs Danvers, one of the help, as she starts to understand what might have happened to a young woman called Rebecca, the former wife of de Winter.
It would be helpful to cut at least a third of the score. In modern musical theatre songs ideally enhance the story rather than provide an aesthetic break from it, which makes good sense, but often in Rebecca, songs feel like they go nowhere and dilute the pace of the storytelling.
There’s also a distinct whiff of panto to the atmosphere, particularly whenever Mrs Danvers comes on stage and the orchestra plays a repetitive jingle in a minor key. It feels more like the Demon Headmaster than anything actually suspenseful – more silly than spooky. There’s an old fashioned feel to the sets too, which feel fussy and restrictive. At other times, digital projections completely take you out of the action and feel like incredibly uninspired ways to tell the story.
Director Robert Scott brings the actors out into the audience a lot, trying to bring immersive elements into the storytelling, but instead of bringing energy they often feel random and hard to keep up with, despite the cast’s best efforts.
Rebecca is one of the most lauded Gothic novels, a pristine, and pristinely creepy, examination of our attitudes to love and relationships, and a questioning of what we would do to protect ourselves and those that need protecting. It’s a shame that Du Maurier’s ideas get very little space to breathe in this overstuffed production.
Rebecca plays at the Charing Cross Theatre until 18 November