Last Updated on November 25, 2021
Moira Buffini’s new play opens on the Lyttleton stage
It’s drama from the outset in Moira Buffini’s dark new satire Manor on the Lyttleton stage at the National Theatre. The play was due to open in 2020 but like many other shows had to be postponed due to the pandemic. At the top of the piece, a retracting screen reveals a magnificent set with a wide wooden staircase, blazing fireplace and floor to ceiling windows designed by Lez Brotherston, which along with atmospheric video effects (Nina Dunn) and John Clark’s lighting creates an amazing evocation of a run-down stately home in the wake of a dramatic storm.
Directed by Fiona Buffini, Moria’s sister, Manor tells the story of a flighty lady of the manor, Diana Stuckley (think Notting Hillite) played by Nancy Carroll (The Crown) who lives in a shabby country mansion which has been passed down through the family. Diana is struggling with the upkeep, not helped by her drunken ex-rock-star husband Pete (Owen McDonnell) who in the opening scene is playing air guitar on an air rifle whilst clearly off his trolley. Daughter Isis (Liadán Dunlea) is the only stabilising force in the family. She is used to the never-ending drama, squabbling and her father’s hopeless addictions and tries to keep the calm.
Diana attempts to take the drunken Pete up to bed, which turns into a fight and she pushes him down the stairs…the narrative unfolds with Pete lying prostrate on the kitchen table. As the violent storm sweeps along the coast cutting the electricity and phone lines as well as all communication with the outside world, a series of eclectic, unconnected people arrive at the door seeking shelter. There’s Fiske, a loveable elderly gay vicar (David Hargreaves), Perry (Edward Judge), a local man who has lost his job at Sainsbury’s and whose caravan home has been swept away, down-to-earth mother and accident and emergency nurse Ripley (Michele Austin) and her daughter Dora (Shaniqua Okwok) from Balham who were spending a weekend in the county Wi-Fi free.
Later arrivals included charismatic Ted who leads Albion, a far-right organisation, played with a sinister edge by Shaun Evans (of Endeavour fame). He has his injured girlfriend Ruth (Amy Forrest) in tow, who is clearly being abused, but still seems to hang on to his every word. There is his sidekick Anton (Peter Bray), a lost soul who has served time in prison and has fallen under Ted’s spell which has given him a sense of belonging. Ted quickly tries to wield his power and captivates Diana’s attention.
Buffini’s script creates a diverse and clever forum for debate, weaving in current themes of climate change, racism, misogyny and extremism. It is perhaps Ted’s power with words and his ability to manipulate, which highlights the vulnerability of his victims and stimulates the most interesting pathways; however, without a flowing narrative, the characters for the most part have nowhere to go and the drama feels underdeveloped.
At worst this ideological farce feels like an episode of the Addams Family with a bunch of oddball characters sheltering from a nightmarish storm in a gothic mansion. But although the play is flawed in many respects, it is also darkly funny at times with some laugh out loud moments plus some great performances which play marvellously into the atmospheric melodrama.
Lyttleton, National Theatre,
London SE1 9PX
Runs until 1 January 2021
Looking for something different? We also recommend The Comedy of Errors, from the RSC, currently showing at the Barbican