Review – The Veil, National Theatre

Saturday 1 October 2011

Welcome to a world where cash flow problems are paramount. A world where danger and violence lurk outside the home. Where people are consumed by grief and spirits are caught between this world and the next. One woman seems able to make contact with them, especially through the power of music.

No it’s not Ghost the Musical, this is Conor (The Weir) McPhersons latest ghost-laden offering The Veil. Sadly though, there’s nary a potter’s wheel in sight.

Rural Ireland 1822. Lady Madeleine Lambroke (Whingers’ treasure Fenella Woolgar) is facing financial ruin. She’s struggling to keep her estate going (no wonder her walls are in a state, there’s no roof on her house) but of course she still has staff (penury is relative) although they haven’t been paid for a year. But, what’s this? It looks as if her problems will be solved by pimping her daughter Hanna (Emily Taaffe) to a rich Marquis in England. If only she had a cherry orchard and an axe.

Poor Lady Lambroke. Her situation is made worse by a strangely camp, bumptious and increasingly annoying defrocked Reverend (Jim Norton) who will accompany Hanna to this nuptial salvation, but not before he’s dabbled in the psychic doings of the Lady’s house, exerted his interest in Hanna’s spiritual powers and stared enigmatically into the large mirror which hangs above the mantlepiece.

In his tow is Charles Audelle (Adrian Schiller), a philosopher. Could his “sordid interior escapades” (a marvellous phrase that will no doubt pass into Standard Whingers Vernacular) be the result of his propensity to laudunum in brandy, a taste he is willing to share with Hanna? The Whingers will be adding it to their list of “must-try” cocktails.

Then there’s Grandie (Ursula Jones), Lady L’s eerily silent (initially) grandmother who takes a soft toy on a ribbon wherever she goes. So far so potentially spooky.

Neil Austin’s lighting transports us from crepscular candlelight to cold bright dawns in Rae Smith’s decaying grand sitting room and they are by far the best things about the production. Unfortunately there’s only so much atmosphere one can take. Andrew couldn’t take it. He wasn’t hovering between two worlds at all. Or two Acts come to that. “All of you have a shared capacity to apprehend the beyond” apparently. There was to be no beyond for Andrew and no apprehending him. He was off.

So what did Andrew miss? A rather chillingly realised seance, (SPOILER ALERT) a ghost (END OF SPOILER ALERT), someone spilling some hot punch (clearly cold punch, it went everywhere, including splashing the front row – you can imagine the note to the stagehands “put half as much liquid in next time”), a tedious Oirish ballad (what is it about Irish writers that feel the need to inflict them on their audiences?), an awful lot more chat from characters you really didn’t give a turf about, more laudanum, a gun waved around menacingly by the unpaid estate manager Fingal (an excellent Peter McDonald) and some more significant staring into the mirror.

The curtain eventually provided spiritual relief by descending three hours after it first rose (Disclosure. This was the first preview it may speed up). McPherson needs to exercise some serious shearing but he also directs so what are the chances? Should writers be allowed to direct their own work? Discuss. Think Steven Poliakoff’s My City. Case closed.

It this play proves anything at all, it’s that there are truths in myths and legends. The Veil has clearly kissed the Blarney stone.


14 Responses to “Review – The Veil, National Theatre”

  1. Di Says:

    went to see this tonight……… terribly slow and lacklustre……. disappointing

  2. Madam Acarte Says:

    We raced out in Andrew’s wake. I think they had all been at the laudanum. I expected there would be a seance, a ghost and unrest among the lower orders. Call me Madam Acarte.

  3. Margarita Says:

    It seems to me, having found The Weir equally soporific and unengaging, that I lack empathy with Mr Macpherson’s work. It is certainly a high quality production in every respect but I too was at that first preview and share your curiosity as to subsequent cuts. A running time from 7:30 to 9:30 including interval would, in my opinion, be about right for the material.

  4. Glad I’m not alone in giving this 2 stars. The set design was superb and the cast worked hard but it was painfully long and slow and I didn’t think it gelled as a unit. Mr Fingal going wild with the gun at the end put the final nail in the coffin for me. I did wonder if he’d been nicking the laudanum in between scenes.

  5. […] in any event, unlike many of the blog reviews I read of The Veil before we went to see it (such as this one, this one, and even this one, in which the reviewer actually left at the interval) I won’t be […]

  6. dgr1 Says:

    I knew we were in for a long night when the play opened with an actor concenrtrating more on the candle going out than the scene. Poor Fenella Woolgar gamely carried on after her candle went out. It was by far the most exciting part of the evening. Jim Norton does an excellent Simon Callow impression though.

  7. Maggieoch Says:

    Peter Fingal and the girl who played Clare were the the highlights of the cast and of course there was a usually brilliant NT set. The 2 female leads shouted their way through the first act (I was only in row L – they need voice coaching!) making the whole thing more tiring than it was anyway.

    A great setting (time/history) for a play which could have been an awful lot more interesting – and some dreadful directing – eg waving a poker once to make a point is OK but after that put the thing down woman!) She brandished like a sword for far too long. Some of the moves were stilted and unnecessary and both lead woman moved as if every gesture and walk was instructed.

    This play was a disappointing investment for our time and money. NT Director – do you vett the content of what goes on at our beloved NT?? Reading this play could have been a clue to it’s shallowness.

  8. Boz Says:

    D’you know, I saw the poster for this and I just thought… No. I just don’t have the energy.

    Love Fenella Woolgar, though. Many is the time I turn to my flatmate and say, “we’ve never had a party in a mental home before, have we. Or have we. Have we?”

  9. Dominick Says:

    Well, I really enjoyed it, but then I really like Conor McPherson’s work. I even liked the Irish Ballad!

  10. Miss P Says:

    It was two hours and 35 minutes tonight. They’ve obviously acted on your comments. I thought it was spiffing – had me on the edge of my seat, except for the ending. Can’t have it all, alas. Thanks for providing the kick!

  11. Bengo White Says:

    l loved it, i loved the acting and i loved Conor Mcphersons work. the fact that you have the attension span of a gnat is not that fascinating either.

  12. Hilary Thomson Says:

    Saw it last Friday and friend and I found it very Checkovian but also very powerful – especially the account of James Fury’s ‘punishment’ which I can’t get out of my head. Very interesting in that I was left wondering whether the voices Hannah hears could have actually been the sounds of the peasantry (or James) crying out and, if not, whether they were symbolic of the frightening, unknowable word beyond the estate gates. I think the playwright is taking part in a discussion at the NT and I’m tempted to go.

  13. Ged Says:

    Daisy and I went on Saturday. We had previously enjoyed every example of Conor MacPherson’s work we have witnessed.

    Yes, the “experience” has been shortened to c2 hours. Still, we both found the first half incredibly tedious and were both mightily relieved when the other voted to leave early.

    That’s two early exits in a row for us. (The Jems Saunders at the Orange Tree the previous week). I sincerely hope we won’t score a hat trick for the first time ever, this Saturdat Westbridge at the Royal Court. We’ll keep you posted!

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