REVIEW: Unimpressed by company’s take on master wordsmith’s short story

The Black Veil
The Black Veil

CHARLES Dickens was a master storyteller.

The Black Veil, performed at the Devonshire Park Theatre, is based on a short story in his collection, ‘Sketches by Boz’. The key word here is ‘short’.

John Goodrum, who makes a speciality of adapting spooky stories for the stage, has taken this Dickensian tale set in 1830’s London and turned it into a full-length melodrama. However, apart from creepy music, dim lighting and an old woman in widow’s weeds with a black veil over her head tottering around the almost bare stage, there is little that is remotely macabre. The playwright’s attempts to turn Dickens’ story of a young doctor who is approached by an unknown woman grieving for her grandson who has been hanged, but when he sees the body realizes that he is powerless to help medically, although his conscience remains troubled for the rest of his life, into “a chilling thriller”, falls well short of such advance billing.

A long monologue by the doctor chronicling his past loves, and the woman’s steadfast unwillingness to reveal her real identity, stretch the first half into yawning eternity. The pace quickens somewhat after the interval with the introduction of the dead man’s partner in crime, on whom an ASBO would have been placed had the action been set 180 years later, who relates the convoluted tale of how he knows the woman and the dead man, glimpsed behind a draped curtain. The performances by Nick Murphy (The Man), and Jen Holt (The Woman), just about made the most of the thin material. Understudy Toby Trimby (Luke), displayed nastiness and aggression.

Produced and directed by Bruce James, the play ends with one character being pushed, and another jumping, into the River Thames. Had the performance gone on longer several of the audience might have felt inclined to follow them.

Roger Paine