This review of The Veil first appeared in Offbeat News, our bi-monthly newsletter.
Conor McPherson disconcerted some of the critics at the initial production of the play with his determination to present a broad picture of Ireland in crisis and haunted by ghosts and superstition. His vehicle is a Chekhovian country house drama set in 1822 when the post Napoleonic peace is about to unravel in economic collapse. Economic collapse has already hit the Lambroke estate, with resentful tenants unable to pay their rents and groups of rebels destroying bridges further afield. The Lambrokes’ Englishness is the focus of the Irish peasants hatred and so they lead an isolated and fearful existence, for most of the household relieved mainly by frequent recourse to alcohol.
The plan to clear the family’s heavy debts is for the daughter, Hannah, to marry the ne’er-do-well son of a great Lord in England, who is prepared to pay a substantial dowry to the family to try and reform his heir and ensure a future heir through the marriage. Lady Lambroke has invited her old friend, the Reverend Berkeley, to come and chaperone Hannah on her journey to England; however, he has agreed less to oblige an old friend than to employ young Hannah as medium in a séance, aware that she has inherited a family gift of clairvoyance. Berkeley has in fact been defrocked for his obsession with spiritualism and he has arrived with Charles Audelle, an aspiring philosopher whose sole publication has brought disgrace when it was revealed that key passages were plagiarised from greater men.
The séance that they conduct with the reluctant Hannah as the medium is suspect from the start as Audelle plies her with whisky laced with his own addiction, laudanum.
The séance produces the stormy winds inside the room and outside as it should in a truly psychic event – great work from the effects departments here - Hannah screams in anguish, we all briefly see a ghostly young girl appear, Most of the experience is to us the audience a mystery, unresolved as the group disperse after the séance is over. Was the ghost one of those haunting the house that Berkeley hoped to raise or something beyond? If you look for straight line narrative here it could be confusing. The outcomes are the important thing.
Perhaps Hannah saw her unavoidable destiny, for the teenager who has been vowing emotionally that she will marry only for love and not to some unknown stranger, is completely changed and the following morning declares in a calm and adult manner that she will go to England. Meanwhile Berkeley’s subdued and mysterious laudanum addict companion Audelle (Andy Howell) has been so disturbed by the events of the séance that he commits suicide.
This play is a challenge to any company, and C0Ps excelled themselves in rising to it in a perfectly paced production directed by Andy Lee that brought much clarity to the text.
All the performers deserve praise as a team for their clearly delivered contributions, but in the key role of The Reverend Berkeley Jim Markey displayed all the authority the part required from the moment he arrived in the Lambroke mansion to set the main events in motion.
There were many less obvious merits; the maid’s skill in moving endless trays of drink, alcoholic and non-alcoholic on and off stage (Clare Wallace/ Jo Manser ) Jackie Lawn’s capacity for being part of the furniture, motionless for long periods.
The set was one of Chris Janes’s finest in that it seemed to summarise the whole movement of the play, The sturdy timber frame of the old house gradually becoming more fragmented as the eye travels from left to right to arrive at a staring blank window frame. The furniture and props were well chosen to give the feel of antique luxury.
What an achievement this was. It deserves the best of luck in theatre week!
Photographs by Steve Beeston.