Writer: Lisa Evans, adapted from the Daphne du Maurier novel
Director: Anastasia Revi
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
The good news is that, unlike the BBC adaptation from 2014, the actors in the Tabard’s version of Jamaica Inn don’t mumble. However, the bad news is that, like the BBC show, the audience still doesn’t really know what’s going on.
Even though Lisa Evan’s adaption of the classic Daphne du Maurier novel about a group of wreckers who lure ships aground to steal their cargo, is fairly faithful, the storytelling is hampered by too many distractions. Mary Yellan has gone to live with her aunt in Jamaica Inn, but she receives a hostile welcome by her aunt’s drunken and lecherous husband, Joss, the landlord. The inn isn’t quite what it seems: it hardly opens and there are never any guests. Soon, she is caught up in a tangled plot of wreckers and smugglers.
The set, by Maria Vazeou, promises an atmospheric and creepy evening with a web of ropes and pulleys hanging above the stage, Bags of swag, stirrups and lanterns sway sinisterly, while Ben Jacobs’ lighting design casts most of the stage in ominous shadow. But all this menace is quickly dispelled when the actors come on stage. The show is played with so little subtlety, it’s as if pantomime season has come early to the Tabard.
Toby Wynn-Davies plays Joss as a Cornish second-rate Fagin, while his wife, played by Helen Bang, is equally Dickensian, all whimpers and tears. Kimberley Jarvis, as Mary, onstage for the whole show, soldiers on gamely as she meets other stock characters on her quest to find out the truth about her uncle. There’s Jem, handsome in a Poldark breeches-and-saddles kind of way, and then there’s the pale vicar who seems to have walked in from haunting a performance of A Christmas Carol. Peter Rae gives him the voice of Sideshow Bob, and the mannerisms of Niles Crane from Frasier. It’s very odd.
At times the cast inexplicably break out into songs and sea-shanties, pushing the narrative forward with refrains of ‘what’s the point of an inn where nobody stays?’ When the actors aren’t singing Jonathan Bratoëff’s guitar music persistently plays in the background, and, towards the end of the show, swells so loudly the actors are forced to shout above it.
The distractions pile up; When Jem is telling Mary of how he has nightmares about the sailors he’s killed, a person dressed in what seems like hospital scrubs peeks from behind the back curtain to blow talc onto the stage. Perhaps the biggest distraction of all is the disembodied voice we hear when Mary has conversations with herself, standing on a stool pretending to be in bed. On press night, the disruptions continued offstage as well with, presumably, the official photographer snapping noisily during the whole of the 95 minute show, the light from the camera irritating during the play’s darker scenes.
Director Anastasia Revi has a problem here, and needs to tone down some of these broad strokes and find a quieter way to tell this story. One of the first lines of the play is uttered by a drunk man; ‘No one stops at Jamaica Inn’. Perhaps this is why Revi jettisoned the proposed interval?
Runs until 2 December 2017 | Image: Contributed