Bringing Daphne’s famed love triangle drama to the stage

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Surely it was only a matter of time before two formidable women with deep-rooted associations with Cornwall should have joined forces.

Therefore it comes as no surprise to learn that Emma Rice, Cornish theatre company Kneehigh’s artistic director, had been planning a new show based on one of the works of Daphne du Maurier, the author of the immortal Rebecca.

The show, at the Lyceum in Sheffield this week, tells the story of a young woman who marries an older widower and moves to his stately home in Cornwall.

She feels out of her depth and overshadowed by his beautiful and sophisticated first wife, Rebecca.

The house’s sinister housekeeper Mrs Danvers is obesssed by the memory of her late mistress.

She said: “Daphne and Kneehigh share a Cornish connection and it felt that a piece based on one of her writings was long overdue.

“I’d been looking at the short stories when producer David Pugh offered me the perfect apple. “How about doing Rebecca?” he suggested and I nearly left off my feet in excitement.”

Perhaps one of the reasons for the enduring popularity of Rebecca, first published in 1938 and still a bestseller, is the book’s refusal to be pigeon-holed in one genre or another.

It’s a gripping whodunit and a social satire and a ghost story, as well as a critique of the position of women in 20th-century Britain.

There is also something of a fairy tale in the way that the second Mrs de Winter is whisked away from her tyrannical employer to become the mistress of Manderley.w

“It’s Cinderella meets Bluebeard,” says Emma with a smile.

“But this Cinderella feels that she is not good enough to be the new Mrs de Winter and what woman has never felt the same?”

On the surface Maxim de Winter would appear to be a Prince Charming on the cusp of distinguished middle age. But Emma has been busy probing beneath that elegant veneer.

“Max deliberately gets himself a very young wife who is not going to challenge him in the way that Rebecca did,” said Emma. “He wants life to be simple again. We talked a lot in rehearsal about Mrs de Winter’s lack of a name.

“Daphne teasingly says that it was given to her by the father and that it is hard to pronounce. I sense that it might be something botanical- like Floribunda.

“However, I think that it’s really important that we don’t know her name and that we don’t get on intimate terms with her. In a way, to know her name is to know her.”

Rebecca is at the Lyceum until Saturday. Box office: at the Crucible, call 0114 249 6000 or go online at www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk