BWW Review: JAMAICA INN, Tabard Theatre
Daphne Du Maurier is the master of Cornish gothic storytelling and ghostly intrigue. Jamaica Inn is her 1936 novel; a haunting tale set in Cornwall in the 1800s. Following the death of her mother, Mary Yellan goes to live with her downtrodden aunt Patience and bullying uncle Joss in mysterious Jamaica Inn. She soon discovers mysterious goings on in the dead of night and deadly events taking place on the Cornish coast, which draw her in to a dark and ghostly world of murder and theft.
The original story is full of richly developed and layered characters, but this production often relies more on caricature. Uncle Joss is surely a gift of a part for actors; brutish, dangerous, with an internal torment about his own actions and alcoholism. Unfortunately, Toby Wynn-Davies plays the part more as the pantomime villain with a very over-the-top Cornish accent and flailing arms more suitable to a pirate king than a country landlord.
Peter Rae's albino Vicar Frances Davey is a tricky character; ghostly and kind at first and yet ultimately duplicitous. Rae's portrayal of him verges on the bizarre, with odd mannerisms and strange facial expressions. It is hard to believe that Mary would ever trust him, no matter how desperate she is to have a friend.
However, there are some good performances. Kimberley Jarvis carries the production as Mary Yellan; white-faced, with a shock of red hair, she brings a vivid energy to the role. She treads a fine line between vulnerability and strength of character as well as being smart, resourceful and brave. Jarvis seizes on all the facets of Mary with aplomb.
Samuel Laurence is rakishly charming as Joss's younger brother Jem. He has a nice chemistry with Jarvis and is very convincing as the horse thief with a heart.
Lisa Evans' adaptation is relatively faithful to du Maurier's original text, with a lack of detail that must inevitably result from compressing a novel into 90 minutes. Mary's struggles with the immorality of the situation she finds herself in is somewhat lost, as is the deep spirituality that Francis shows his parishioners. The rain-lashed Cornish moors, so beautifully evoked by du Maurier's text, must only be imagined.
Maira Vazeou's design is instantly striking; very low lights flicker, ropes and stirrups hang from the ceiling and copious amounts of dry ice make for a very atmospheric set. The tiny space of the Tabard Theatre feels intimate and no corner is left unused by Director Anastasia Revi. The clever set of different height platforms, along with a moveable centre table to be used as both a bar and altar is a good use of space. It feels suitably claustrophobic, dark and foreboding.
Music is a big part of the production; there are some inexplicable songs and a constant background soundtrack that is sometimes appropriately atmospheric, but is sometimes so loud it threatens to drown out the dialogue of the actors.
Overall, this is an atmospheric piece of theatre, but the promisingly gothic story and set is let down by a lack of depth.