Theatre Review - 'The Veil'

Posted by Alexander Hay

If you can imagine a cross between Henry James and Anton Chekhov you will get some idea of the flavour of Conor McPherson’s intriguing new play The Veil (NT’s Lyttleton auditorium).

High spirits in The VeilIt is May 1922, rural Ireland. The defrocked Reverend Berkeley arrives at the crumbling former glory of Mount Prospect House to accompany seventeen-year-old Hannah to England. She is to be married off to a Marquis in order to resolve the debts of her mother’s estate – her father hanged himself in the grand but dilapidated drawing room.

However, compelled by the strange voices that haunt his beautiful young charge and a fascination with the psychic current that pervades the house, Berkeley proposes a séance - the consequences of which are catastrophic.

Set around a haunted house, hemmed in by a restive, starving populace, the play weaves Ireland’s troubled colonial history into a story about the search for love, the transcendental and the circularity of time.

McPherson manages to weave a combination of narcotics, spiritualism, sin and suicide, as well as an interest in the supernatural into his piece, yet while an atmosphere of foreboding is maintained throughout the play, the writing appears at times razor sharp but often strangely prosaic and the pace is rather slow moving.

Nevertheless McPherson, who also directs, manages to extract impeccable performances from his strong NT ensemble, most notably Emily Taaffe as the haunted, rebellious but touching Hannah, Fenelly Woolgar as her bankrupt widowed mother, Jim Norton as the interfering grandiloquent clergyman, Adrian Schiller as his Laudanum-addicted philosopher friend and Peter McDonald as the drunken estate manager who hasn’t been paid for thirteen months.

Rae Smith’s impressively realistic set, spookily lit with flickering candles and a howling wind, strongly evokes the decayed country house and sets the right mood for the drama that is enacted within it.

Plays until December 11.

Box office: 020 7452 3000

Press: 0207 452 3333

By Laurence Green

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Alexander Hay

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