As you may know I am a huge supporter of new writing, and for this reason alone bought tickets to The Veil as soon as the National Theater’s fall season went on sale. Ooh, new writing, and OOH ghost story, sounds great! And I managed to get £12 tickets (third row – to be honest it was actually too close) so I was all set for a night of spooky fun.
The signs looked good – a deliciously decrepit Irish manor – tales of suicide in the house – a girl (Emily Taafe) who hears spectral singing – a possibly haunted ancient tomb nearby – and all sorts of high quality actors on stage, including Fenella Woolgar (will never forget that profile after Time and the Conways), Jim Norton, and Adrian Schiller. The veil was lifted … and it all went downhill quite quickly. The characters seemed to be endlessly ticking boxes as they “created atmosphere” and “slowly revealed the story” – making sure all of the elements of spookiness were there without actually managing to cohere. Part of the problem had to be that each character wasn’t so much a stereotype as a non-entity – we had actors emoting their socks off but with dialogue as wooden as this, there was little hope of success.
I was also bothered by the play’s weak historicity – the 1820s were a very specific time in terms not just of famine in Ireland, but in terms of social relations – between parents and children, gentry and servants, and men and women. McPherson seems to only want the costumes, architecture, and superstition of the time, and has let everything else fall away. Maybe that’s why the characters were so unbelievable – like the ghosts they discuss, they are drifting around in search of time, with nothing rooting them. I, however, firmly felt time’s hold on me, as the minutes ticked by and I was forced to realize that instead of watching an engrossing story I was just watching a bunch of actors move around on a very well-dressed set. Could they not have shared some of their copious stash of (imaginary) hootch with us less-fortunates craning to see all from the third row? The answer was no, but I was able to satisfy my cravings to make my brief passage on this earth more valuable by taking my leave at the interval. I’ve heard it ran until 10:30 and did not improve; not so my evening which took a strong turn for the better as I sat enjoying the deliciously mild Indian summer on the patio of the National with fellow departee A.
So yes, I went to a first preview, and I left at the interval. Perhaps it will get better but at £12 for my ticket I felt I’d got my full value for my evening. My advice however: skip The Veil and just go to The Woman in Black, which I promise will have you sitting on the edge of your seat for the entire evening.
(This review is for the first preview of The Veil, which I saw on Tuesday, September 27th, 2011. Sadly I’m so turned off on this play there’s just no chance of me going back to see the rest of it later in the run. For a review of the entire play, see Ian Foster’s blog. And please don’t whinge on about how “oh you can’t review a preview,” this is the show AS I SAW IT and while it’s perfectly fair to say that it will keep evolving, my record of the evening as I experienced it will not be any less valid. If you’re going to say OH NOES BUT IT WAS A PREVIEW why don’t you just say instead what’s now different from the points that I criticized? But if you say HOW DARE YOU REVIEW A PREVIEW I’m just going to ignore you. You might as well say how dare you review a war that wasn’t won because it didn’t count and can we please look at a successful one instead. My review is a FULLY VALID account of the evening. Look on it as a news story and as such very vital for those looking for the lay of the land while the battle rages on.)