Behind the Veil


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The Veil – Lyttelton, National Theatre, London

I was only vaguely aware of Conor McPherson from reading portions of ‘The Weir’ many moons ago, as to actually seeing one of his plays this was going to be a first.
This is a new play which, from talking to others, is a typical McPherson piece of work, a ghostly tale with strong characters and a well told story.

The Veil is set in rural Ireland in 1822 at the home of the widowed Lady Madeleine, played by Fenella Woolgar, there is financial ruin on the horizon and hostility from the locals.
A strong Chekhovian feel hangs over the story, there are strong similarities between The Cherry Orchard and this one.
Everyone in the play is haunted, either by their own personal ruin or by the ghosts of the past holding on with a firm grip.
The set pieces have been beautifully designed by Rae Smith, crumbling walls, cracked paint, and even the addition of a tree with large overhanging branches which form a ceiling for what was obviously, once upon a time, a grand room in a grand house.
It was clear from where I was sitting, front and centre of the circle that from certain areas of the auditorium, there would be areas of the set invisible to the audience. In particular a rather nice staircase on the other side of the main wall of the room which clearly led to the upper floor of the house.
The Lyttelton however, seems like the perfect environment for this set piece, and having seen ‘Seasons Greetings’ earlier in the year, Rae Smith appears to know exactly how to use the space provided.

The cast itself seems capable of delivering this new play and each character had the ability to carry the story along without it ever feeling like it was dragging.
Alongside Fenella (who I will come to later) is Ursula Jones as the delightful Grandie, bearing a striking resemblance to Firs (The Cherry Orchard,) the role of the elderly and rather eccentric character who you can’t help but think knows a lot more than it appears.
Jim Norton is wonderful as the over-bearing and slightly too eager to please Reverend Berkeley, Adrian Schiller tender and sympathetic as the melancholy Charles Audelle. The exact nature of their relationship is never specified but it provides a nice respite from the mainly female lead story.
There is a particularly strong character development in the form of Peter McDonald as Mr Fingal, the slightly stereotyped Irish worker, with a weakness for alcohol and gambling and a concealed love for his employer Madeleine.

It is however, the relationship between Madeleine and her daughter Hannah which steers the story along.
The most compelling performance comes from Emily Taaffe as the haunted and often harassed Hannah, I was first aware of Emily due to her rather small role in ‘The Cherry Orchard,’ here she excels, taking on a much larger and emotive character with ease and efficiency.
She was by far the best thing about this play in my opinion.
Which is why I was slightly disappointed by Fenella Woolgar’s performance. After having read the play again I don’t think McPherson gave much in the way of characterisation, despite this, having seen a number of her screen roles I can’t help but feel that she could have so much more with the role and script she was given.

Unfortunately, this leads me to the part of the play I thought was least successful, the ending, a scene set two weeks after the previous scene, it feels like an unnecessary epilogue, as though McPherson felt he needed to tie up loose ends and give each individual character an ending.
Personally I found it very disjointed from the rest of the play, and rather off-putting from what had been a tender, heartfelt and quite shocking previous scene.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this play, there were some truly great performances, I will continue to watch Emily Taaffe with interest, although I can’t help feeling there were also a number of aspects which unfortunately let this production down.

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