When I arrived at Shrewsbury four years ago, the very first thing I did was travel up to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with the School’s production of The Lost Domain. It was that experience which made me fall in love with Shrewsbury; four years and two shows on, I still think it is one of the most incredible opportunities that we offer.
This year, the show we took up the M6 was The Drowned Bride, a new adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. Many of you will have seen our workshop production in February, which gave the cast and creative team an opportunity to lay the groundwork. However, one of the great joys of developing a show for the Fringe is the opportunity to rehearse full-time in Shrewsbury before we go: new orchestrations are written, new choreography is devised, and the company can really wrestle with the ideas thrown up by the text.
Those of you who have read the novel will know that it tells the story of a young girl who falls desperately in love with a handsome widower, only to discover (spoiler alert!) that he has in fact murdered his first wife. What I had not realised was that Max de Winter’s actions were part of a wider social phenomenon. Over the summer, I visited an exhibition of deviant Weimer art at the Tate (yes, I have niche interests). What struck me was the overwhelming atmosphere of sexual menace: I learned that throughout the 1920s and 30s there was an extraordinary surge in ‘lustmord’, or sexually motivated killings. A generation of traumatised, deeply troubled men returned from the First World War, normalised to bloodshed and incapable of articulating their demons. A horrific spike in domestic violence was the result: Max’s treatment of Rebecca is not an isolated incident, but indicative of its broader social context. Our production, therefore, became a commentary not merely on the story of Max, Rebecca and his second wife, the nameless narrator of the novel, but on the ‘whispers in the shadows’ that lurk in all of us.
The resulting performance was one of the most powerful that I have worked on, and I could not be prouder of the dedication and extraordinary talent of the company. The audience response throughout the week was amazing. Considering that the average audience for a Fringe show is eight people, the fact that we never dipped below 90 is testament both to the brilliance of the performance and to the company’s ability to flirt with middle-aged ladies on the Royal Mile.
The show turns on the relationship between the Second Mrs de Winter and her husband, Max. Theo Jarvis, as the Second Mrs de Winter, was a revelation: she grew in confidence and stature throughout the week, giving me goosebumps with every single performance. She was matched by Dominic Sullivan, who in the words of one reviewer, “brings great sensitivity to the role [of Max]; despite his youth, he manages to convey the sense of a man haunted by demons”.
They were supported by an outstanding ensemble of supporting actors, many of whom received their own plaudits from reviewers: Sophia Price was “magnificent” as Mrs Danvers, Jessie Inglis-Jones “inhabited the role of Mrs Van Hopper with great confidence” and audiences “loved Ben Lloyd as the haunted, traumatised Ben Carminowe and Abi Watkinson's breezy, bitchy Beatrice”.
Like laws and sausages, it is often best not to inquire how shows are made. However, the rehearsal process made me as proud as the show itself. Not only was the entire company determined to do their best on a daily basis, but the week was full of brilliant examples of leadership and kindness: Charlie drilling the dance numbers; Freddy giving acting advice to nervous performers; Aaron’s universal cheeriness; and Sophia’s compulsion to wash up after everybody. We were all brilliantly looked after by Lauren Temple and Toby Percival, who kept us sane and fed in both Shrewsbury and Edinburgh.
Of course, none of the above would be possible without the towering musical genius of John Moore. Without his talent, passion and masochistic compulsion to make us all as good as we can be, 25 years of Salopians would have missed out on this genuinely transformative experience. Under his baton, the band (Dalton Foster, Joe Dodd, Vicky Kirk, Ella Johnson and Harry Sargeant) played their hearts out, fuelled on an extraordinary quantity of coffee and almond croissants.
You can read all of our reviews in full at: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/drowned-bride
Please click on the large image below to open and scroll through a gallery of photos taken at the Fringe.