DAPHNE Du Maurier’s chilling mystery Jamaica Inn was famously adapted for the stage by David Horlock in 1990, the artistic director of Salisbury Playhouse who was killed in a traffic accident only days after the play had opened.
Now the version has been revived by the Studio Theatre in Ashley Road, the amateur company of which Horlock was president, in an atmospheric new production by Linda Hayman.
Set in and around the remote Jamaica Inn on Bodmin Moor in the early years of the 19th century, it is the story of Mary Yellan who, after her mother’s death, goes to stay with her favourite aunt Patience, wife of the landlord of the inn.
But the cowed and weary women she finds is nothing like the carefree laughing mother’s sister she remembered as a child, and she rapidly realises that the warnings of the coachman were more than local rumour. Her uncle, with bullying drunken Joss Merlyn, is engaged in a criminal and murderous trade, and before long Mary knows that she is trapped and has no idea who she can trust.
Much of the action takes place at night, and the stage is lit by flickering candles and fast-extinguished flashlights, all adding to the fear and menace in this intense production.
There are exceptionally charismatic performances by Anthony von Roretz as Joss Merlyn and Daniel Coffey as his horse stealing brother Jem – a real Ross Poldark sort of villain.
George Cotterill brings a mesmerising dread to the role of the terrified Patience and Emily Prince is the plucky Mary, with Alistair Faulkner as the albino vicar of Altarnun, the man who provides a sanctuary for the confused heroine. He also designed the clever set, incorporating the inn, the road, the cliff, the local town and the vicarage and allowing energetic travel between them all.
It’s a real chiller, from the swirling mists that welcome the audience to the tolling of the distant bell – well worth a visit. It’s on until Saturday 12th October. GP-W