I assume that the 'veil' referred to in the title here, is the 'veil between this world and the next'. It had me puzzled for a while until I remembered that phrase from the dim recesses of my battered memory. And that gives you a clue to the nature of this drama – or part of it at least.
Written and directed by Conor McPherson, 'The Veil' is a new play set in Ireland in 1822. Famine is abroad, and the tenants who farm on the land belonging to Lady Madeleine Lambroke are unable to pay their rents. Thus, Lady Madeleine is looking for other sources of finance and has arranged to marry-off her daughter, Hannah, to a wealthy aristocrat in England. To convey Hannah to her new abode, Lady Madeleine has arranged for her cousin, the Reverend Berkeley to come from England. When he arrives, he has in tow one Charles Audelle who is described as a philosopher but who is addicted to laudanum and drinks copious quantities of alcohol, largely as a means of dealing with his memories. Both Berkeley and Audelle have a keen interest in the spirit world and know that Hannah has heard voices in her family home, and lose no opportunity to cajole her into making contact with the 'other side'.
'The Veil' is not merely a period play with a spiritual twist. It is a portrait of a family who have experienced suffering. Lady Madeleine's husband committed suicide by hanging himself from the mantelpiece in the drawing room where all the action takes place. And the suffering takes different guises with other members of the household. For example, Fingal, the estate manager, harbours a thinly-veiled longing for Madeleine which is unrequited and forces him to seek comfort in drinking and gambling.
According to critics from the national papers, Jim Norton had a bit of a tough time on opening night when he forgot some lines. I was at the show on the second press night, and I am glad to report that he redeemed himself brilliantly. And Jim Norton is in great form here as indeed are the rest of the cast. Mr Norton plays an affable and genial vicar who has lost his living having been defrocked for reasons that are not made explicit, but we assume to be connected with his unrelenting interest in the spirit world. In spite of not having a sustainable living, Reverend Berkeley has taken in the tormented and anguished Charles Audelle, excellently played by Adrian Schiller. The members of the Lambroke household all provide fine support, with Peter McDonald as Fingal, who rages against Audelle when his pent-up emotions are unleashed in a drunken frenzy. And Bríd Brennan is the homely, down-to-earth housekeeper Mrs Goulding who also finds an angry voice thanks to rather too much of the Irish whiskey which she describes as 'the Lord's tears'.
This is not a play that will scare you out of your wits, even though there are a few moments which will certainly make you jump. The real enjoyment is not in the spiritual dimension, but is to be found in the terrific characterisations and first-rate ensemble acting, enabled by pacey and evocative direction from the author.
" An original and at times genuinely startling evening. "
Charles Spencer for The Daily Telegraph
"A strange and baffling mixture of historical metaphor and intellectual melodrama."
Michael Billington for the Guardian