Jamaica Inn

Daphne du Maurier in a new adaptation by Lisa Evans
Salisbury Playhouse Company
Salisbury Playhouse
(2004)

A picture from the Salisbury Playhouse production of Jamaica Inn

An imaginative staging by Salisbury Playhouse of Daphne du Maurier's Jamaica Inn suffers from the handicap of its own invention.

Joanna Read's production of a new adaptation by Lisa Evans, with incidental music and songs by Matthew Budd, is a colourful retelling of this famous story of dark events along the Cornish coast. However, translation of such a good yarn from page to stage is in itself a challenge, inviting comparison with the original.

To compound this task by incorporating vocal score, comic animal mimicry and the introduction of a twin 'conscience' figure for the heroine Mary Yellan is, surely, taking invention at least one device too far.

The excellent Salisbury Company have their work cut out in bringing to life a story which has entered folklore. The fact that a little over ten years ago, Jamaica Inn was famously staged here as a tribute to David Horlock, following the director's sudden death before opening night, merely adds to the hurdles to be overcome.

There is certainly much to admire in the warmth of individual performances. Laura Rogers' Mary Yellan grows in stature as the play proceeds and if Mark Jax's voice and stature fall short of his creator's dark vision, his Josh is sinister enough. No more so, however, than the spooky vicar of James Duke who reveals his true colours from the outset.

Sara Weymouth is a nicely downtrodden Aunt Patience and Marcello Walton has only to show a hint of winsome charm to explain Mary's liking for him.

Yet not even Lisa Mcnaught's fine singing as the conscience (she also gets the best of du Maurier's prose) can obscure the fact that her role is a distraction from the business in hand. A simple narrator might have moved more easily in and out of our picture.

Su Hauser's set is splendidly dark and dingy though this is no excuse for Jim Simmons' lighting to be quite so reluctant to allow a single face to penetrate the gloom.

While this production is worthy for its ambition, it is also a reminder of the glorious adventure of theatre. What might have been sensational actually slips close to the edge of 19th century melodrama, with interludes and tableaux in the manner of The Bells.

Somewhere in here is the mystery and primeval enchantment, which stirred du Maurier in the first place.

The production is at Salisbury until 22nd May before touring.

Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole