Theatre and book reviews by Janice Dempsey
I approached Guildbury’s production of Jamaica Inn with some trepidation. I was aware of the pitfalls of melodrama and over-production inherent in Du Maurier’s story of a young girl caught up in intrigue and romance, smugglers, wreckers and murderers in 19th Century Cornwall.
I needn’t have worried. Eddie Woolrich’s well-paced and sensitive direction of Lisa Wells’ play, Ian Nichol’s excellent design and a talented cast ensure that the story is told in an evening of sheer entertainment. Sentimentality and melodrama are downplayed in favour of poetic narrative, real drama and character portrayal. Sound and lighting take us to Cornwall’s bleak moors: I loved the sheep baa-ing, the gulls, the waves, and the use of scrim curtains to vary the elegantly simple set.
As a narrative device, the chorus, spoken and at times sung, is masterly, giving the play a mythic quality, reminiscent of T S Eliot’s ‘Murder in the Cathedral’. The poetry brings alive the landscape, physical and emotional, through which the characters move. A symbolic “Woman”, Gilly Fick, speaks eloquently throughout for the thoughts and fears of the young girl sent to live with her aunt at the grim desolate inn on Bodmin Moor, where nefarious goings-on are soon revealed to her.
Fleur Wolstenholme is an assertive Mary Yellan, by turns charming, defiant, puzzled and justly terrified, trying to understand her Aunt Patience’s refusal to leave Joss Merlyn, her drunken and abusive husband, landlord of Jamaica Inn. Michael Lawrence and Diane Nichols give strong, perceptive performances as the dysfunctional couple. Diane Nichols portrays Patience’s abused, submissive state and the nurturing love that holds her to Joss’s side in a powerful performance. Michael Lawrence is a frightening and brutal Joss, revealing his tormented conscience in a moving soliloquy on his murderous activities that is one of the highlights of the night.
Mark Williams as Davey the “moon-bleached man”, Tom Kent and Kim Ferguson and the rest of the cast support the main protagonists admirably. The smugglers, merely coarse and vulgar in an early scene, become frightening criminals in the excellently staged scene of murder on the beach. The ensemble scenes are faultless.
This is a brilliant evening’s entertainment by an experienced and talented dramatic group. It exemplifies the best of amateur dramatic productions at the Electric Theatre, a resource that should be nurtured at all costs. Don’t miss it!
18th November 2015