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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Veil
Lyttelton Theatre  Autumn-Winter 2011

On a run-down Irish estate in 1822 a young woman is haunted by voices and visions.

Her mother thinks that sending her off to England to be married will eliminate the problem (while also improving the family finances), while a religious relative and his spiritualist friend think some sort of exorcism is in order. 

But the visitors' interference seems to cause more harm than good, on both the earthly and astral planes, and it turns out that their credentials and their own pasts may be less worthy than they claim. 

Ghost stories, secret pasts and colourful characters in an atmospheric Irish setting it wouldn't be too hard to identify this as a play by Conor McPherson, author of The Weir, and until it begins to fall apart a bit near the end, The Veil glories in McPherson's signature mix of authentic Irishness, superb storytelling, dark comedy and lush ear-filling language. 

As directed by the playwright, the drama and comedy are driven to a large extent by the admirable Jim Norton as the preacher, who we may suspect from the start to be a bit (or more) of a charlatan, but whose unstoppable flow of eloquent religiosity, like that of a TV evangelist, is irresistibly entertaining if not especially convincing. 

The emotional core of the play lies in the quieter performances of Fenella Woolgar and Emily Taaffe as mother and daughter, the one mixing without hypocrisy an unquestioned love for her daughter and a concern for her own financial future, the other haunted by a sense of doom while remaining a recognisable stroppy teenager. 

The whole cast, down to the maid, is strong, and under the playwright-director's guidance, all contribute to the created reality and the blend of eeriness and comedy. 

And throughout there is the pleasure of listening to characters who are all unforcedly poetic, the music of their language a joy in itself as well as a support to the play's mystic atmosphere. 

It's not until the last half-hour, which has the feel of a rushed and incomplete wrapping-up of loose ends, that McPherson's hold on the play and our imaginations begins to waver a bit. 

Until that small let-down, we confidently place ourselves in the hands of a master storyteller and are amply rewarded.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -   The Veil - National Theatre  2011

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