The thing about presenting a spooky tale of this nature in an intimate theatre space is that a greater suspension of disbelief is required to properly immerse oneself into what’s going on. In Jamaica Inn, there’s some inventive and distinctly lo-tech methods of, for instance, simulating a horse ride, or a descent into the basement of the said Jamaica Inn. The inn is a real place, and to demonstrate this, audiences of this production are invited to their premises in Bodmin Moor, Cornwall: there’s a two-page advertisement in the show’s programme with ‘discounted packages’ and contact details.
Within the first minute, I was already wondering if we had not, metaphorically speaking, been here before. This definitely isn’t the first story about a hotel out in the sticks that always has vacancies. “No one stops at Jamaica Inn,” we are repeatedly told, and whatever the reason is for there always being vacancies, those who choose to book elsewhere can’t all be wrong. And of course, Mary Yellan (Kimberley Jarvis) has to go against the grain and check-in. While she does have a more legitimate reason than most for doing so – her uncle Joss Merlyn (Toby Wynn-Davies) is the establishment’s landlord – it is hardly the revelation of the century when it transpires both she and her Aunt Patience (Helen Bang), are in significant danger.
There are relatively few plays with West Country accents, and I cannot say authoritatively whether the ones deployed in this production are authentic. Mind you, it’s hardly the salient point, in a briskly paced drama that I found relentlessly intriguing. Not even the local vicar, Francis Davey (Peter Rae) can be trusted in the end, and the concluding scene left me wondering if it really was a positive ending, or if Mary had simply fallen into another compromising situation.
The period costumes were impressive. The programme doesn’t say when this stage adaptation (Lisa Evans) was set, though the novel (Daphne du Maurier, 1907-1989) was set in 1820. The music (Jonathan Bratoëff) held little appeal for me personally, though there’s no denying it created a rather macabre atmosphere for the most part, commensurate with the narrative. One or two scenes set at Christmas time provided some light relief from the doom and gloom of the plot.
There are also, fortunately, or unfortunately, songs included in this play. Aside from the Christmas carols, they bring to mind the style of music used in certain musical numbers in West Side Story, where, paradoxically, an upbeat melody underscores lyrics that ultimately advance a sobering storyline. Kimberley Jarvis does a splendid job in the lead role of Mary Yellan, capturing the vulnerability of a young lady who must deal with the consequences of acting rashly, albeit in the heat of the moment. Looking back, she expresses much regret, highlighting how hindsight can be a crippling burden as well as revelatory.
But she is no shrinking violet, and that she pursues a course of action in the first place when she could have followed her aunt in putting up and shutting up, reveals a strength of character. A voiceover lets the audience in on what Mary’s conscience is telling her, and on occasion, the enemy within is just as problematic as the drunken and violent Joss. It’s not all about Mary, though. The charming warmth of Samuel Lawrence’s Jem was a welcome relief from an otherwise gloomy environment, and the various plot twists maintain a decent level of interest. An absorbing and worthwhile experience.
Review by Chris Omaweng
NOBODY GOES TO JAMAICA INN… lonely and dark on the bleak Cornish moors. A place full of secrets, violence, and rum that fuels nightmares of ghosts that howl with the wind. Young and innocent, Mary comes to stay only to get entangled in its mysteries. A dark and disturbing gothic tale where nothing is quite what it appears to be.
Director – Anastasia Revi
Producer – Martin Reynolds
Designer – Maira Vazeou
Musician / Composer – Jonathan Bratoeff
Lighting Designer – Ben Jacobs
Stage Manager – Pepe Pryke
Production Assistant – Lydia Imirtziadis
8 November – 2 December 2017 by Daphne du Maurier, adapted by Lisa Evans