The film Hitchcock famously shows the great director describing the plot of Psycho to his nonplussed nwife, to which she replies – “Charming. Doris Day should do it as a musical.” She didn’t, of course, and neither did Hitch when he made his film of Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn 21 years before, leaving me at a loss to know why Theatre Lab thought it would be a good idea for their stage version. That said, it’s far from a conventional musical – there are perhaps half a dozen actual songs, the rest of Jonathan Bratoëff’s music being incidental. For my money the latter is far more effective, if only because the cast aren’t what you’d call natural singers, though even the incidental music could come down a little sometimes so the actors don’t have to shout over it.
The story concerns young Mary Yellan who comes to stay with relatives at ye olde spooky deserted inn in the middle of Bodmin Moor, only to find her aunt almost bullied into catatonia by her drunken uncle, whose rowdy friends seem to be the only visitors to the inn. The mystery of how it makes any money – and of whether we’re watching a ghost story or something where the terrors are more earthbound – may be answered by the locked storeroom and the carts that arrive in the middle of the night, particularly on the nights ships have been lured to disaster on the rocky coast by the so-called “wreckers”…
Anastasia Revi’s direction, Maira Vazeou’s set and Ben Jacobs’ lighting make efficient and atmospheric use of the Tabard’s smallish stage (though I would say that with smoke effects, sometimes less can be more). Peter Rae makes an eerie vicar Davey, his albino looks reminiscent of the young Peter Stillman in the recent production of Paul Auster’s City of Glass at the Lyric Hammersmith. Poor Kimberley Jarvis as Mary scarcely gets a moment offstage once the action has started, an impressive achievement, especially when she’s often called on to have conversations with her pre-recorded self to show Mary’s inner voice. Unfortunately, Toby Wynn-Davies’s ha-harrrring uncle Joss never rises above the level of a pirate in a Christmas panto.
The real Jamaica Inn still exists and indeed advertises in the programme, mentioning a room full of Daphne du Maurier memorabilia including a desk on which she “may well have” written Jamaica Inn. Hopefully it’s a more cheery place than the one portrayed here, with a great deal of atmosphere and engaging storytelling, despite the occasional misstep.