Theatre Review: The Black Veil @ Buxton Opera House

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Picture Courtesy of Buxton Opera House

The Rumpus Theatre Company specialises in touring with chilling and haunting thrillers. Their latest offering is The Black Veil which was written as a short story by Charles Dickens way back in the 1830s. The story was adapted for the stage in 2001 by John Goodrum and this is the third time that the production has been on tour. Although the original piece was written shortly before Victoria ascended the throne, it conveys all of the atmosphere of the poor in Victorian England expected in Dickensian fiction.

As one would expect from a slice of Dickens, the play is set in the mean streets of London and features a dark, atmospheric setting and finely-drawn characters. The plot revolves around Stephen Ruggles (Christopher Brookes), a young and newly-qualified doctor who is visited at his lodgings late one night by a mysterious old woman dressed in a black veil who gives her name as Ada Crawlings (Dorkas Ashar).

Crawlings beseeches the doctor to attend to her stricken grandson but strangely will not allow him to be seen until nine the following morning. The evident grief shown by the old woman over the impending loss of her loved one draws the doctor into talking about the break-up with his former intended Carla Blackstock and his love for his current fiancée Rosa.

When Ruggles arrives at the Limehouse hovel the next day he finds that all is most definitely not as expected. The arrival of underworld villain Luke Gunford (John Goodrum) and Carla (Sarah Wynne Kordas) mean that the doctor is dragged into a situation that is horrific to him and he is forced to face the consequences of his own past.

Brookes gives an excellent performance as a young professional who soon finds himself completely out of his depth while Ashar draws in the audience’s sympathy for her character even though there is always a feeling that she is not quite what she appears to be. Goodrum adds energy to the production and gives a strong performance as the low-life Gunford who has secrets to reveal and there is an impassioned performance by Kordas in her role of the scorned woman.

Director Karen Henson has ensured that the cast give a crisp performance, the actors all put in very creditable performances and the staging and lighting create a gloomy ambience that adds to the audience’s appreciation of the play.

The first Act demands patience from the audience as the dimly-lit stage and lack of movement from the two cast members present could be found tedious and a number of patrons around me described the opening act as being on the slow side. However, the dialogue gives the background to the characters’ situation and sets the scene for the later drama.  The audience’s patience is well-rewarded after the interval.

The hammering on the door to demand entry by Gunford in the closing seconds of Act 1 suggest that Act 2 will be much livelier and it surely is. The plot becomes ever more sinister and there are twists and turns as the play moves to its dramatic finale.

The Black Veil will appeal to all who enjoy classic mysteries. They will not be disappointed by this well-acted production.

The Black Veil has a running time of approximately 125 minutes including interval. The run continues until Saturday March 14th. Ticket details are available by calling 01298 72190