“If this is not yet an Alexandrian feast, it ripens towards it.”
Helen Brown and John Moore’s third collaboration, a musical based on Daphne du Maurier’s novel Rebecca, is a feast in the final stages of preparation. Billed as an über-dress rehearsal, with disclaimers mixed in with pre-show instructions about fire exits and mobile phones, the audience had in fact no need to lower their expectations.
One-and-a-half hours flew by as we embarked on the emotional Cook’s Tour embodied in this darkly melodramatic tale of love, deception, disillusion, dastardly dealing and despair. The full fruition of co-education has secured for the School a seemingly unending stream of exquisite female voices; when matched up with John Moore’s attractive and varied score and Helen Brown’s appealing lyrics, the result could hardly fail to grip the audience. A veteran of many bands in previous Moore/Fanning productions, the opening number took me straight back to The Lost Domain, a rather more whimsical romantic fantasy than the more gritty Rebecca. But there the similarity ended. This is an original score, more Kurt Weil than Lloyd Webber, but unmistakeably Moore.
Dom Sullivan’s portrayal of the hapless Max de Winter, looking every inch the part, a man with a dark secret which from the moment he first appeared on stage he could not quite conceal, was enthralling from start to finish. As the author intended, we were initially taken in by his specious sincerity and palpable vulnerability, and increasingly appalled by his treatment of the hapless ‘2nd Mrs de Winter’ (significantly never graced with a first name), poignantly acted and sung by Theodora Jarvis. In marrying Max de Winter, she merely swaps one tyrant – the vulgar American gold-digger Mrs van Hopper (the inimitable Jessie Inglis-Jones) whose charms, despite her best efforts, can work no magic on Max – for another, in the shape of Max’s embittered, sinister and icy-hearted housekeeper Mrs Danvers (nonetheless exquisitely sung by Sophia Price), obsessed by her former mistress, the drowned 1st Mrs de Winter.
All the leads were convincing and committed, as were those characters with important but smaller roles, amongst whom I would single out the serpentine Jack Favell (Freddy Williams), the simian simpleton Ben Carminowe (Ben Lloyd) – who between them unravel Max de Winter’s guilty secret – and the only apparently happy character in the story, the bluff coroner Colonel Julyan (Oliver Shutts), while Jasper the dog and his master Aaron Clark threatened at times to steal the show. I am sorry I can’t mention everyone – there were no weak links in the casting.
A lively chorus sang with gusto and conviction and, trained by their choreographer Sîan Archer, broke the tension with their dancing. They appeared particularly to relish their most memorable number, ‘You’re in the country now, my dear’, as, dressed in Barbours and flat caps, they welcomed the 2nd Mrs de Winter to Manderley with supercilious disdain.
Lighting and sound were accomplished, and really the only indications that this is still a work in progress were a few unscheduled dance moves and a couple of unexplained pauses which may or may not have been dramatic. And throughout the whole show, the tireless John Moore did duty for a whole band, which will doubtless materialise when the show goes to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in the summer.
This is a great show, just about ready to come out of the oven. Cast, crew, composer and the director/playwright are to be warmly congratulated.
To view a gallery of photos taken at the Dress Rehearsal, please see: The Drowned Bride Photo Gallery
A behind-the-scenes video featuring interviews with cast and crew during the Technical Rehearsal can be viewed here: Launching the New Shrewsbury School Musical