It’s probably the Poldark Effect but we can’t get enough of period dramas and, even more so, if they’re seaworthy adaptations of literary classics.
Put the hero, or even the tall, dark and handsome anti-hero, in tight riding breeches, present him with a feisty red-haired “Demelza”, and set their burgeoning relationship around a story of wrecking, murder and more, upon the windswept moors of Cornwall and you’ve got a winner.
Certainly London’s Theatre Lab Company has triumphed with Lisa Evans’ dark and atmospheric adaptation of the Daphne Du Maurier classic, Jamaica Inn, now running at the Tabard Theatre.
It’s a thrilling production with, at its heart, a luminous performance by Kimberley Jarvis as the spirited heroine, Mary Yellan, and a riveting turn by Toby Wynn-Davies as her bullying, alcoholic uncle, Joss Merlyn.
The moorland mist and peasant accents are thick enough to cut with a knife yet director Anastasia Revi doesn’t stint on either.
She turns the intimate Tabard performing space into a treacherous corner of Bodmin Moor, inhabited by villains and reprobates, murderers and thieves.
Evil permeates from the boggy ground, infecting everyone living in the area, but mostly, it’s concentrated in its purest form, on Jamaica Inn, a real life tavern that Du Maurier once visited and fell in love with.
The 90-minute production takes the audience on an enthralling adventure as young Mary battles to save her aunt from the clutches of her brutal husband and expose his vile trade as a murdering ship-wrecker.
It is a captivating yarn brought vividly to life by a top ensemble who drive the action from the filthy, run-down inn, to the local vicarage, the squire’s country seat, onto the rain-soaked moorland, and into the nearby town with its unforgiving shoreline.
Sitting out on bleak Bodmin is Jamaica In. It’s a wild and hostile place that welcomes few visitors save the friends of its landlord, Joss Merlyn.
Young, innocent Mary, travels to the tavern to stay with her aunt after the death of her mother.
But she is only there a few minutes when it’s clear that Merlyn has driven poor Aunt Patience mad with his verbal and physical abuse. Soon secrets begin to reveal themselves.
Mary discovers that the terrifying Joss supplements his meagre income from the pub with wrecking, organising gangs to force passing ships onto the rocks, murder fleeing ships’ crews and then plundering the cargoes.
She finds herself attracted to Joss’s younger brother, Jem (Samuel Lawrence, every inch a romantic hero), a horse thief and charmer who openly flirts with Mary.
Mary’s rebelliousness puts her in conflict with her violent uncle. Her only salvation is the mysterious albino vicar, Francis Davey (Peter Rae, outstanding) who goes to her aid.
The audience is on the edge of their seats as this visceral retelling of the Du Maurier story builds to an action-packed climax.
Theatre Lab’s production is heavily physical with moments of high drama creatively played out on a tiny stage, dressed with just a couple of timber piers and little else. The ceiling is festooned with ropes holding sacks, lanterns and harnesses.
It’s a wonderfully evocative set, designed by Maira Vazeou, that makes full use of every inch of space.
Kimberly Jarvis is spell-binding Mary. She exudes vulnerability but there’s a steely side to Mary which completely disarms her thuggish uncle.
Helen Bang gives a compelling performance as the unhinged Patience. The old aunt is madder than a box of frogs for most of the performance, driven insane by her husband’s cruel temper.
Toby Wynn-Davies is memorable as the cold-hearted killer, Merlyn, who is the epitome of evil. The landlord is a vicious brute who terrifies and intimidates the women, and kills without hesitation.
Yet we also see him consumed with guilt and haunted by his savagery, unable to control his alcoholism.
Pay a visit to Jamaica Inn and you won’t leave disappointed.
Running at the Tabard Theatre until December 2.
Pay a visit to Jamaica Inn and be prepared for a thrilling adventure yarn about good versus evil. It is an atmospheric, enthralling and visceral production that exudes menace and savagery.