Posts Tagged ‘The Veil’

Mini-review – The River – Royal Court Theater

December 30, 2012

There’s no doubt in my mind that for theater fanatics in London, The River was the event of the year: a new play by one of the writers with the biggest buzz in the biz, yet staged in a theater that only holds about 90 people, and with tickets only for sale on the day (20 for in-person buyers and the rest online). Me and my theater loving acquaintances were not pleased. Many of us saw it as a publicity stunt; most of us doubted the play could really only be successful in a small space (was Butterworth really being that much of a princess?); some spent months planning their schemes to ensure they could get a ticket (I’ll admit the day of scheme took care of most scalping possibilities) while many of us just figured it wasn’t going to happen. I, personally, saw this as the lynchpin in letting my membership of the Royal Court lapse despite generally enjoying the work done there. What was the point in supporting a theater that would leave me, as a member, completely out in the cold? I was so disappointed by the whole thing I put it entirely out of my mind as something that just wasn’t going to happen.

Months went by, the show opened, and exactly twice early on I was at my computer at the right time and actually saw the “for sale” button lit up on the Royal Court’s ticket page. But somehow I just couldn’t be quick enough. A few people I knew went and said it was good; the reviews came out and agreed; I gave up because I hadn’t left every day of the run open in the hope that one of those days I would buy tickets and just got on with my life.

And then, well, a friend of mine said he had a tip about how to work the computer system to get to the tickets about 10 seconds faster than anyone else, and on the last Thursday of the run I managed to have an afternoon free and have my act together enough to be right there, online, perfectly at the moment I needed to to have my sweet little booking scam ready to go (one of the tips being to make sure you were already logged in). Bang bang, I was off to a matinee of the show I thought I was never going to get to see! I could finally decide for myself if a one act play was really worth the hype.

Embarrassingly (given what a grinch I was about the whole thing), without the poison of the ticketing system hanging over me, there is no way I can deny that this was anything but an excellently written play, beautifully performed. I found the writing left me with more questions that it answered, one of my favorite situations to be left at at the end of the play. The Hemingway-like dialogue was very intense and paired nicely with Ted Hughes poetry (and of course the fishing setting, and the general hypermasculinity of the play and its lead character), but what I wanted to know was: did someone die here? Was it one of the women? Did he push her in the river (and why), or did she fall? The echoing nature of the play just made it all seem so possible, and seem so very likely that the way the two women interchanged with each other was because one was a ghost. What Butterworth couldn’t teach Conor McPherson about how to write a spooky play! But then, I wondered … was the guy just living with his memories? Or was he maybe, as he said his grandfather did, reliving the same behavior patterns with different people, stuck in a loop he could never break out of?

The play ended, leaving me surprised and exhilarated. None of my theories could be proven, but it had all seemed very real and was enlessly watchable (and an amusing counterpoint to the similarly structured Ding Dong The Wicked, which I saw barely a month before). British playwrights, Jez spanks you: watch and learn at the feet of the master.

(This very belated review is for a performance seen on Thursday, November 15th, 2012. Since the play is long closed, I didn’t worry about spoilering it. Thanks to Andy for helping me get in.)

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Review – The Veil – National Theatre

September 29, 2011

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.)