On Bodmin’s windswept moors a ramshackle lodge stands alone against the slate grey sky. This is the Jamaica Inn; a tavern as empty as the surrounding landscape for “Nobody stops at Jamaica Inn.” Daphne du Maurier’s gothic tale could not have been staged in a better theatre than the Tabard in Chiswick. The intimate space perfectly captures the claustrophobic isolation of a backwoods dwelling, heightening the dramatic tension.
Our heroine, Mary Yellan moves to the infamous tavern to be with her Aunt Patience, (Helen Bang) finding her a nervous wreck, frantically wringing her skirts while her husband Joss (Toby Wynn-Davies) barks his orders.
Noble Mary stays to protect her aunt but is haunted by strange sounds from the moor. Risking the wrath of her tyrannical Uncle Joss, she resolves to solve the mystery of the empty inn. Unfortunately, once young Mary has learnt the truth, she too is sucked into the dark and twisted world of the Jamaica Inn and wonders if she will ever escape its
The eight piece cast all give a strong performance, with several players doubling up as multiple characters. As our leading lady, Kimberley Jarvis excels as stout hearted Mary Yellan; making her spot-lit entrance shrouded in a white hood like a Celtic angel. Writer Lisa Evans has taken large sections of the script direct from the novel, which Jarvis emotes beautifully, evoking the stunning imagery and sense of despair in du Maurier’s words. Thanks to Jarvis’ vehement portrayal, the audience becomes utterly invested in this young girl’s plight and roots for her blossoming relationship with loveable rogue Jem Merlin, admirably played by Samuel Lawrence.
Some ingenious techniques have been effected in this adaptation of the gothic novel, such as Mary having fraught dialogues with herself by using a recording of her voice. Setting the show to music was a risky decision, which doesn’t quite hit the mark. At times, Jonathan Bratoëff’s acoustic guitar enhances the rustic quality of the piece, such as in the bawdy bar scene full of swashbuckling men chiming “Drink, Drink, Drink it down!” On other occasions the spontaneous eruptions into song feels contrived and detracts from the action. Some work also needs to be done on the sound levels as the music sometimes drowns out the actor’s dialogue. This aside, the production is engrossing and highly visceral, capturing the portentous anxiety and lyricism of the gothic genre.
All photos by Panayis Chrysovergis.