Daphne du Maurier's stirring, often terrifying, Gothic novel is compared to the work of the Brontes, and indeed her vivid evocation of Cornwall's wild moors does for the West Country what the Brontes did for Yorkshire.
Lisa Evans succeeds brilliantly in adapting this dark story of treachery and murder for the stage and together, creative team and actors are equally successful in realising her vision.
With the simplest of props and Jim Simmon's astonishing lighting effects, they bring the dark world of nineteenth-century Cornwall, with its smugglers and wreckers to rollicking life on Su Houser's effective multi-level set
Jamaica Inn itself broods over the action, a character as dark as the men who plot their murderous doings in its dark bars and corners. This is a story with few good men and true in it. Joss Merlyn, the brutal landlord and his gang have no redeeming features and though the heroine Mary Yellan may find his brother Jem attractive, he's an unashamed horse thief nonetheless.
But that heroine is one of the feistiest girls you're likely to meet on a dark stormy night on any moor. And Mary is wonderfully portrayed here by not one, but two marvellous performers. Flame-haired Laura Rogers plays the heroine herself to the hilt. She's accompanied by Lisa McNaught's sweet-voiced 'Woman' as her alter ego - a conscience vividly showing the workings of her mind as she faces terrifying dilemmas.
Mark Jax is genuinely frightening as her brutish drunken uncle Joss. His systematic cruelty towards his wife (a pitiable almost Dickensian figure in Sara Weymouth's vivid portrait of an abused wife) and his bullying of Mary make this misogynist a satisfying hate figure. But it's all so convincing that we fear for Mary's safety and sanity as she tries valiantly to defy him and protect her aunt.
This is full-blooded entertainment, with Matthew Bugg's lusty evocative songs advancing the action and plenty of laughs from company members doing great service as a farmyard of animals. There's graphic violence and even nudity as the thuggish denizens at Jamaica Inn's bar terrorise Mary and fight among themselves.
And there's real suspense throughout. Will Mary succeed in bringing her uncle to justice? Will she fall for Marcello Walton's dangerous, glamorous Jem or James Duke's strange, though gentle-seeming Vicar? And what of the cloaked figure on the stair? It's well worth taking the wild road to Jamaica Inn to find out.
- Judi Herman (reviewed at the Salisbury Playhouse)