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Moira Buffini’s new play Manor at the National Theatre

If there was an award for Melodrama of the Year, I’d nominate this production of Manor. The emotionalism starts off being justified when there’s a tragedy and some severe freak weather in the same evening. But as the evening wears on (and it does wear on) there’s screaming and yelling about anything and everything from a camera to divergent political outlooks. I wouldn’t exactly go so far as to suggest wearing earmuffs, but all that high volume makes the show rather more one-dimensional than it needed to be.

Owen McDonnell (Pete) in Manor at the NT, photo by Manuel Harlan.
Owen McDonnell (Pete) in Manor at the NT, photo by Manuel Harlan.

Perhaps only Fiske (David Hargreaves), the local vicar, manages to not shout at someone in the same room as him. The play is not without stereotypes. Ted Farrier (Shaun Evans) describes Perry (Edward Judge) as “a fat man”, and when the lady of the house, Diana (Nancy Carroll) abruptly hands him a pile of clothing, she almost snaps, “None of these will fit you”. Quite why Diana’s house is full of people she’s not met before is that the manor, hence the show’s title, has become a place of refuge for a number of flood victims in the vicinity. There’s also Dora (Shaniqua Okwok), the sulky teenager who never quite gets over not having the sort of internet connection she’s used to at home in Balham.

Pete (Owen McDonnell), meanwhile, expresses some bizarre views, though it is Ruth (Amy Forrest) who draws the loudest gasps from the audience when she asserts that slavery is part of the natural order of civilised society, even in contemporary times. The far-right viewpoints made at various points in the play come across not so much as offensive as misguided and ill-informed, and at the same time, its adherents are so set in their ways there is not much, if any, hope in persuading them to take a more pragmatic stance.

While there are some laugh out loud moments (I’d quote a punchline or two but that would be giving too much away), there are narratives about climate change to add to the mix. One might be forgiven for thinking that the production is trying to say that there’s a positive correlation between rising sea levels and rising extremism. But it appears the message is more along the lines of there being similarities between the two, inasmuch as there must be a concerted effort to keep both in check, otherwise the problem will eventually become insurmountable.

The set is suitably elaborate for a historic building, though the dialogue is often far from naturalistic – nobody ever seems to interrupt anybody, and everyone knows exactly what they want to say in advance. It’s easy on the ears in some ways but it’s also palpably obvious the cast are rattling through a script. Things also get implausibly personal between characters who have only – apparently – had the pleasure of meeting for the first time on a particularly stormy night. Perhaps it is lust rather than love, but even so, with so many people in the same house at the same time, and, more pertinently, most of them moving freely from room to room, why take the risk? Much remains unresolved by curtain call, and with such an abrupt ending the play feels unfinished.

Not that I would want another act tacked onto it, but rather the show as it stands could be more focused on whether it is a dark comedy or otherwise a poignant play. Its current state, in which it tries to be both, is jarring – and this production could also lower the sheer hamminess by several notches.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

In this darkly comic play, a violent storm is brewing and Diana, played by Nancy Carroll (The Crown) is struggling to keep the roof on her rundown manor house. As the storm sweeps the coast, an explosive mix of people unexpectedly arrive in search of shelter including Ted Farrier, played by Shaun Evans (Vigil), a charismatic leader of a far-right organisation. Stranded together, this group of strangers must survive the weather – and each other.

Directed by Fiona Buffini (Dinner), the cast also includes Michele Austin as Judith Ripley, a nurse; Shaniqua Okwok as Dora Ripley, her daughter; Owen McDonnell as Pete Stuckley, Diana’s husband; Liadán Dunlea as Isis, Diana and Pete’s daughter; Amy Forrest as Ruth, Ted’s fiancé; David Hargreaves as Reverend Fiske; Peter Bray as Anton, Ted’s aide; and Edward Judge as Perry, a local.

The cast also includes Effie Ansah, Helen Barford, Chris Barritt, Mat Betteridge, Sophie Bradley, Sophie Cartman, Gillian Dean and Lewis Griffin.

Set and costume design by Lez Brotherston, lighting design by Jon Clark, composition and sound design by Jon Nicholls, video design by Nina Dunn, fight direction by Kate Waters. With associate set design by Louie Whitemore, assistant costume design by Diane Williams, associate sound design by Beth Duke and the staff director is Sepy Baghaei.

Manor is on in the Lyttelton Theatre until 1 January 2022.
https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/

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