Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

A dream of Manderley

Newlyweds: The new Mrs de Winter (Rachel Lawrence) and her husband Maxim (Martin Copland-Gray)


The Nonentities

Rose Theatre, Kidderminster


THE magnificent set on which the first-night curtains opened boded well for what was to follow, and its forecast did not let us down – apart, ironically enough, from the incredibly tentative dusting that the banisters were almost immediately given by two of the housemaids of Daphne du Maurier's Manderley as they fluttered at the top of the impressive staircase.

This was indeed the moment of the lack-lustre dusters.

After which – no complaints, apart from that door into the conservatory which never seemed to want to shut and a telephone with a ring so feeble that it should have defied anyone not in Manderley's main hall to hear it.

Fortunately, David Wakeman's production has no difficulty in rising above such trifles. It exudes confidence. It hits its peaks with precision.

It is full of individual excellence. Jen Eglinton's Mrs Danvers is ice in black. She comes frost-wrapped and smile-free. She is authoritative and ominous. She is the immediate unpleasant welcome for the new Mrs De Winter, the bride who is replacing the predecessor to whom she was devoted and who has met an untimely end. This is a performance heavy with unspecified threat, guaranteed to inspire unease. It offers excellence in irresistible seat-squirming.

As her unfortunate target, Rachel Lawrence moves believably from shyness and timidity to belated confidence and authority, while her husband Maxim (Martin Copland-Gray) offers supportive strength – and is particularly impressive in his revelatory and lengthy opening to Act 2 as he throws short, clipped sentences into the melting-pot.

Black ice: Jen Eglinton's Mrs Danvers who adds a sinister edge to proceedings

Ross Workman gives Frank Crawley, the estate manager, the sort of happy face that is a pleasure to see among the weighty matters which are generally in evidence and which come to a head in the guise of the ne'er-do-well Jack Favell (Tom Rees) – who brings a declamatory and memorable decisiveness which ensures that nobody is going to slide into the sort of torpor that can be induced if an evening is overfilled with too-even utterance. Not that this is a  trap into which the production shows any indication of sliding.

Stephen Downing is a suitably ponderous chief constable and it is quite a relief to hear him say, “We really ought to carry on with this conversation elsewhere” – because Trevor Bailey is Tabb, the groundsman and gardener who has been subjected to a quizzing that would have been more in place at an inquest.

Stuart Woodroffe and Sandy Tudor are Giles and Beatrice Lacy, the couple who arrive amusingly early on to give us the flavour of the fancy-dress ball that has preceded our own arrival at the gates of Manderley. Among the comings and goings, Dennis Beasley maintains an unshaken sang froid as Frith the butler. It is an excellent evening. To 15-10-11

John Slim 

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