Review: The Black Veil, Buxton Opera House

Rumpus is a well-established theatre company based in Chesterfield. Over a period of 25 years it has put on dozens of productions including a number of adaptations of thriller/mysteries from the 19th century. This extended telling of an early short story by Dickens was first seen in 2001, before being revived last year. All this tells us that we are on safe ground with The Black Veil.

John Goodrum’s play is in two acts – the first is very much about setting the scene, establishing the characters and their backstories. Necessarily we proceed with care and some patience is needed. Act 2 provides a resolution of the various strands and plots previously presented and has a more more energetic and dynamic feel to it.

At the outset we meet Dr Stephen Ruggles (Chris Brookes). It is late on a winter evening. It has been a long day; he is tired, alone and evidently not happy. He receives an unexpected and unknown visitor, an elderly woman who moves with difficulty. Ada Crawlings (Dorkas Asher) wears a heavy black veil and we never see her face. She has an unusual request of a doctor she has not met before.

The two strike up something of a rapport and tell each other of their various troubles. Ada recognises that her days are numbered but there is something that she must do before she dies. Stephen recounts a failed love affair as well as talking about his fiancée. At the end of the first act there is a knock at the door and we hear the coarse voice of Luke Gunford (John Goodrum). His arrival will change everything.

In Act 2 it becomes apparent that no one is quite who they seem and that past lives have a grip on the present that won’t easily be shaken off.  In time a version of the truth emerges that brings things together, dramatically and decisively. Stephen’s past catches up with him in the form of Carla (Sarah Wynn Kordas) who is desperate to regain an affection that seems gone.

This is an old-style bit of theatre (and that is not intended as a criticism) with intrigue and twists that many will find satisfying. The production is stylish and the storytelling is assured. The design is economical yet effective in creating an atmosphere that is threatening and in keeping with the period and genre.

The Black Veil from the Rumpus Theatre Company can be seen at Buxton Opera House today and tomorrow, March 13 and 14.

Keith Savage