Tuesday, 22 March 2011

The Black Veil Devonshire Park Theatre

The Black Veil
"a chilling thriller"
Devonshire Park Theatre
22-26 March 2011

Show seen 22 March


The Man - Nick Murphy
The Woman - Jen Holt
Luke  - Toby Trimby **

** Understudy appearing in place of indisposed Nick Barclay

I have always thoroughly enjoyed the numerous Bruce James productions we have seen over many, many years................. until now.

If you have come here expecting anything different than the views of the 'official' critics I'm afraid you are about to encounter more of the same. To be honest because we only see shows we think we will enjoy as opposed to being paid to watch anything that comes along you would think my verdict may be more favourable.

It isn't.

In this Dickens short story a mysterious old woman wearing a black veil and completely clad in black clothing seeks the services of a new doctor, who she knows is looking for new patients, to save her dying grandson.

The whole of the first half is dialogue between the doctor and the veiled woman covering her apparent situation and his colourful background and it goes on...... and on .... and on. It rambles on to such an extent that you actually switch off altogether. When you know the show is a very short one anyway and people are still looking at watches long before the interval you know all is not well.

On a slightly different subject what is your pet hate in the theatre? People coughing continually, phones ringing, watches beeping, the constant rustling of sweet bags?

Well whatever you prefer this predominantly elderly Eastbourne audience inconsiderately served us the full monty in the first half. However, given that there was more action in the audience than on the stage perhaps we should have all joined in?

You've heard of a no expense spared set? Well welcome to the no expense spent set. The 'settings' include the doctor's reception room with him in front of a warm fire, the dirty streets of Victorian London, a grotty London flat and a watermill. At least this is what you have to imagine because asides for some board supports, a chair and a bed this is one empty set.

Not so much as a front door or a picture of the warm fire - zilch!

This results in a production where you can never really sense that Victorian London  atmosphere and I have to wonder if just a little effort may have made this seem very different indeed?

The corpse just wouldn't stay still, a point noticed by so many. No you can't stay totally motionless but hey this body was even behind a curtain and it was still seen to move. If you can't find an extra who can lay still for goodness sake go to Debenhams and borrow a mannequin.

The programme is £2.50 and very poor value compared to others with not even a picture of the current cast members. Along the road at the Congress Theatre Spamalot's programme is £2 much thicker and with great content for the price. In fact you could justify £2.50 for Spamalot's publication.

As for cast members that's another subject. Fair enough Eastbourne Theatres quite rightly point out that the pictures on its web site are of a previous cast but look at Bruce James official website and the previous "star cast" is still listed.

Last years production had a 'star' in the lead, former Eastenders star, James Alexandrou (played Martin Fowler) to provide some interest. He is still on James website with his co-stars at the time Beatrice Curnew and Andrew Ryan.

This cast is totally different and even the programme credited cast couldn't be achieved as understudy Toby Trimby was forced to fill the shoes of Nick Barclay as Luke.

My stars awarded at the end of this review are for the cast and the cast alone Nick Murphy does nothing wrong in his role as the doctor, Jen Holt maintains her London accent and mysteriousness perfectly and whilst Toby stumbled over several lines as bad boy Luke it was nothing that he didn't recover from quickly. Besides, we all stumble with language in real life and I admire any understudy that has to step in.

No cast you are not the problem but just about everything else is. The first half is nothing short of mind numbingly boring and whilst the second half does liven things up the lack of a set and by that time a rather predictable outcome means that at no stage is this the chiller promised. If this ever was a chiller it's time we called in the refrigeration engineer to give this production a well overdue service.

I enjoy promoting theatre but I will not promote theatre for the sake of it when a production is simply not good enough and this isn't.

"I don't like theatre" is a common reason from those who don't go. The trouble is if you took a theatre doubter along to see The Black Veil as it is you would do nothing whatsoever to change their mind.

It's funny but we saw the very amusing Spamalot the following evening with the adapted song "You won't succeed in Eastbourne without a star". I couldn't help but sit there listening to that song and relating back to this show. This is a show without a celebrity star, yet wherever you look the previously featured celebrity is still advertised. I find that to be a little deceptive to be honest and I think that any advertising promoting the booking of this show should either feature the actual cast or just the Black Veil image as featured on programmes.

As it stands it just looks as though the producers are desperately keeping their previous 'star' pictured in the hope this may bring a few additional people to see a production that is already getting many poor reviews.

That is not fair on theatre goers as it is misleading, it is not complimentary to the current cast, who are trying to do their very best with an awful play and it is not fair on James Alexandrou either who may just be anticipated at each venue by some.

This is a very rare below average mark from me but. once again it's not directed at a hard working cast but the poor material and set they are having to work with.

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