The Veil, NT Lyttelton, London
Cool Hand Luke, Aldwych, London
Driving Miss Daisy, Wyndham's, London

A 19th-century Irish estate troubled by unquiet spirits makes for a spooky evening, brought down to earth by a whiff of BBC pilot

This is a grand haunted house, sure enough.

A gale rattles the windows, the candelabra gutter and a door swings open, as if pushed by an invisible hand. If it's a spooky night you're wanting, the Irish writer Conor McPherson is your man. Admirers know this from his grippingly eerie The Weir (1999), Shining City (2004) and The Seafarer (2006) – not to mention his 2009 film, The Eclipse.

Now, in The Veil, McPherson's focus is an Anglo-Irish landed estate in 1822. Fenella Woolgar's Lady Lambroke is a widow with a brisk manner. However, the household's mental state is increasingly fragile as it struggles to cope with debts, a bad harvest, and starving, potentially mutinous locals. Lady L's daughter, Emily Taaffe's Hannah – since her father's suicide – has heard ghoulish howls in the drawing room.

Two visitors want Hannah to participate in a seance. The Reverend Berkeley (Jim Norton) is a maverick ex-clergyman, dabbling in the occult. He and a laudanum-addicted friend – Audelle (Adrian Schiller) – have travelled from England, ostensibly to hasten Hannah's marriage to a Northamptonshire aristocrat. However, their real purpose is to sniff out unquiet spirits, opening a can of worms. Meanwhile, the boozy, shotgun-carrying estate manager, Peter McDonald's Fingal, who dotes on his employer, is wounded by Lady L's dismissiveness.

Thus are you nudged toward your seat edge with familiar devices – several from McPherson's backlist. The production looks beautiful with its empire-line dresses and flickering log fire (designs by Rae Smith, lit by Neil Austin), but the spine-chiller tactics are disappointing.

Stylistically, too, The Veil creaks, with its big speeches delivered from centre-stage (McPherson himself directing). But with its echoes of Chekhov and Brian Friel's Home Place, the play's haunted country estate becomes a rich metaphor for Ireland's history, for English imperialism, shifts in power and brewing revolution. Yes, The Weir was more original, but The Veil is a fine play all the same, tapping into deep veins of primitive superstition, while intimating that the "ghosts" dogging us are our own guilt and fear.

As for rehashing storylines, the West End keeps rifling through the movie catalogue. Does Paul Newman in the 1960s film make Cool Hand Luke a top night out? No, siree! What's jaw-dropping about this southern US jail drama – pitting rebel inmate Luke against a brutal regime – is the tediousness of Andrew Loudon's staging, with Marc Warren in the title role.

Emma Reeves's adaptation, in fact, sources Donn Pearce's pre-screenplay novel, so we're spared the film's tacky scene with a car-lathering blonde. But what we are given is darned clunky, as the action switches endlessly between dull scrubland where the chain gang mime hard labour; the prison barracks; and scrappy flashbacks to the Second World War, with Luke's army unit on a raping and pillaging spree in Germany (the violence is not at all convincing).

Warren is passable, doing deadpan impudence. He suffers by comparison with Newman, though. Luke's atheistic rant in a storm – "Where's that thunderbolt ... huh, big guy?" – well, it ain't King Lear. And the scene where Luke eats stacks of boiled eggs for a bet dwindles into puerile farts.

To hail this as topical would be pushing it, though Pearce's tale touches on the lasting impact of military service and suggests that some delinquents are rendered more recalcitrant, not less, by boot-camp discipline.

Another film staged, Driving Miss Daisy, offers bigger names. Vanessa Redgrave is the neurotically crabby Jewish widow Daisy, with James Earl Jones as Hoke, her patient black chauffeur in the American Deep South, circa 1950. Alas, David Esbjornson's drab production looks like a village-hall show, involving a steering wheel on a stick and out-of-focus projections. Is that foliage or is Hoke motoring through a huge petri dish of slime?

That Esbjornson and his designer have major Broadway credits beggars belief. Redgrave is dismayingly hammy too. Still, even when snail-paced and almost drowned out by the whirring projector, Alfred Uhry's dialogue is droll. Jones's gently dopey driver has a sweet grin. And, ultimately, his and Daisy's journey towards aged frailty and friendship – through the years of the Civil Rights Movement – is overwhelmingly touching.

'The Veil' (020-7452 3000) to 11 Dec; 'Cool Hand Luke' (0844 847 2429) to 7 Jan; 'Driving Miss Daisy' (0844 482 5125) to 17 Dec

Next Week:

Claudia Pritchard primes her soul for a rare revival of Edward Bond's Saved

Theatre Choice

Lesley Manville is a widowed housewife with a surly teenager in Mike Leigh's gently satirical then heartbreaking play Grief, at the NT (till 28 Jan). Dublin Theatre Festival (+35 3 1 677 8899) offers a cornucopia of productions: Peer Gynt by Rough Magic; Kneehigh's The Wild Bride; Juno and the Paycock with Ciaran Hinds, and more (to next Sun).

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

    Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

    The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
    Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

    Stolen youth

    Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
    Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

    Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

    He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
    Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

    Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

    Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
    Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

    Made by Versace, designed by her children

    Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
    Anyone for pulled chicken?

    Pulling chicks

    Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
    9 best steam generator irons

    9 best steam generator irons

    To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing