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).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum