The Veil by Conor McPherson – The National Theatre – Review

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Conor McPherson returns to the National Theatre with a new play that contains the hallmarks I’ve come to admire in his work, ghostly tales, strong characters and storytelling.

As mentioned in previous posts I’m an admirer of Conor McPherson’s style and feel it is a necessary and welcome juxtaposition to the current trend of short/sharp and bitty “dialogue” that is so prevalent in many modern plays. He is master of well crafted, witty and intelligent dialogue of depth. I chose his play The Weir, for an assignment at college earlier this year which gave me the chance to research his work in more depth which I reveled in.

The Veil takes us to Ireland 1822 and to the home of widow Lady Madeline Lambroke, played with finesse by Fenella Woolgar. Her estate is in financial trouble and the locals do not like her much either. The solution? Marry off her daughter to a Marquis in England and leave. Into this home come a variety of characters, Mr Fingal the estate manager with a love of Madeline, gambling and alcohol (not necessarily in that order), played with panache by Peter McDonald. The daughter Hannah is played by Emily Taaffe, who strongly portrays this character who is fighting the imposed marriage and who is dealing with ghosts of the past, present and future.

Ursula Jones as Grandie (Madeline’s grandmother) provides some comic moments, but Conor McPherson is wise to not present her as totally mad/naive, she has her finger on the pulse more than some characters give her credit for. The household staff of Clare and Mrs Goulding, played by Caoilfhionn Dunne and Brid Brennan, are caught in limbo between their roles as staff and the demands of Madeline. Clare also plans to escape from Ireland and is planning to go to Canada.

Finally into the potent mix are added The Reverend Berkeley and Charles Audelle, Berkeley is a “spiritual advisor” (despite being defrocked) to Hannah’s future father-in-law and family friend. Charles is a philosopher and friend of Berkley’s who is haunted by his own ghosts. Both are overly keen to visit the estate. Jim Norton is wonderful as the over zealous Berkley and Adrian Schiller plays the melancholy Charles with great tenderness.

Then there are the other ghostly characters that McPherson conjures up and which we allow our imagination to build too. Each character has a story to tell or in the case of Clare sing. McPherson uses the ghostly stories/experiences to be the catalyst for these. There are a few ghostly shocks in the play – one of which got a huge reaction from a group of students nearby much to my delight.

Madeline acts as the voice of reason, as others get carried away with their own agendas and views on the experiences. McPherson brings the play to a rational conclusion, but with a nice twist, that some find it hard to shake off their attachment to “the other side”.

I really enjoyed this play, it’s McPherson writing as he knows best and to his strengths. It’s not a short play at 2hrs 45 mins (with interval), but each characters story carries the momentum and at no point did I feel it was dragging. Rae Smith’s wonderful design with the overarching trees and single estate room, gave a sense of a grand past that has since faded. The subtle touches of the wind blowing through the windows and causing the curtains to move and billow was particularly effective.

Conor McPherson directed this himself, and I think that certainly helped as the characterisation and each story really came through. I’m going to hear him speak at the end of the month about The Veil and I look forward to hearing what he has to say about it, as writer and director.

This was a preview performance, but I found it tight and doubt much will change prior to it opening in 3 days time. For those that have seen previous McPherson plays and enjoyed them, The Veil won’t disappoint. If you’ve never seen one of his plays, I recommend you catch this. It felt in many ways like a modern Ibsen/Chekhov type of play, that is high praise indeed in my mind and I’m sure I’ll continue to be haunted by this play into the future too.

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2 thoughts on “The Veil by Conor McPherson – The National Theatre – Review

  1. Would you mind making a few notes about the talk and sharing them? I doubt I’ll get down to London to see this, though I’ll buy the script.

    Thanks.

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