The Black Veil
Theatre Royal Windsor
Reviewed – 3rd March 2020
“if you enjoy high Victorian melodrama, this is a spirited piece with some memorably dark (if rather improbable) moments”
‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’. This play is loosely based on a short story by Charles Dickens, first published in book form in 1836. Like many of the other ‘Sketches by Boz’ it’s a yarn that evokes the grim poverty and colourful street life of early Victorian London that Dickens knew so well. Many of the stories were first published to popular acclaim in the newspapers and periodicals of the day.
Playwright John Goodrum has taken fewer than 4,500 words by Dickens and spun them out in new directions, building a wordy melodrama that is long on operatic moments and is as dark as the black curtain-hung set (design by the playwright) in which it is presented. According to the programme, his inspiration is as much Wilkie Collins (The Woman in White) as it is Dickens. Chesterfield-based Rumpus Theatre Company was formed in 1994 to perform a much earlier play by the same author.
The piece opens with a promising tableau scene, with some impressive lighting and sound effects (Keith Tuttle and David Gilbrook). Late one evening, an inexperienced young doctor (Christopher Brookes) receives a mysterious black-veiled visitor at his rooms near St Paul’s. At length she speaks, and explains that a terrible tragedy is about to befall someone dear to her. She begs the good doctor to visit her home in Limehouse the following morning. He is drawn in to a dark web of deception and tragedy that spirals via more than one improbable twist to an outlandish conclusion unimagined by Dickens himself.
Dorkas Ashar (once Bert Fry’s wife in ‘The Archers’), gives a good performance as the inevitably eponymous and suitably Dickensian sounding Ada Crawlings, who remains veiled for her entire appearance. In the spirit of Victorian theatre, Director Karen Henson has made a play that is big on vocal and gestural effect and this was reflected in all the performances, including that by John Goodrum himself as Luke Gunford. Sarah Wynne Kordas appears in the second half as Carla Blackstock, as the pace of the play picks up and the young doctor receives more shocks than any therapist would ever dare prescribe.
A subtler interpretation could easily be imagined, but if you enjoy high Victorian melodrama, this is a spirited piece with some memorably dark (if rather improbable) moments.
Reviewed by David Woodward
The Black Veil
Theatre Royal Windsor until 7th March then UK tour continues
Previously reviewed at this venue: