Manor reunites Buffini in a professional capacity with her sister, the director Fiona Buffini, after the two staged Dinner at the National Theatre in 2002. Working with designer Lez Brotherston, they’ve transformed the Lyttelton stage into a decrepit Restoration-era manor house, with relics from a richer heyday – a chandelier, regal staircase and stained-glass windows among them – physically leaning under the weight of an uncertain future, mirroring the deteriorating relationships of its occupants. As tensions rise within, some neat use of pathetic fallacy from video animator Nina Dunn conjures stormy, shifting skies beyond the house, and a troubled, swelling sea which eventually comes crashing at the door.
Amy Forrest (Ruth) in Manor at the NT. Photo: Manuel Harlan
Inside, lady of the house Diana (played as a sultry, unworldly matriarch by Nancy Carroll) is desperate to prevent the manor – the extent of her life’s assets – from flooding, while her washed-up rockstar husband Pete (Owen McDonnell, as bullish and befuddled) bemoans the state of the world, oblivious to his own privilege. Grown-up daughter Isis (played with spirited determination by Liadán Dunlea) is left to quell the fallout, but then a Big Thing happens and soon after, ‘refugees’ from the storm start knocking.
Before long, the aforementioned motley crew are assembled, with south London nurse and voice of reason Ripley (a searing performance from Michele Austin), arguing the case for equality and banding together for the greater good, against the viciously manipulative Ted (a compelling Shaun Evans) and calmly terrifying Ruth (Amy Forrest), both members of an extreme right-wing group, Albion. Elsewhere, a gay priest, Fiske (David Hargreaves), tries to convince the lost and impressionable Perry (Edward Judge) that there are better ways of finding fulfilment than joining the extremists, and before the storm is over, pent-up yearnings spill into two unlikely romances.
Brotherston’s split-level staging allows active and passive developments to unfold simultaneously within the house. While the main drama develops largely by the fireplace, romance burns from the kitchen and an ambush is readied from the stairs. Then there’s the body, hidden from the stranded arrivals but in full view of the audience, fuelling many of the early laughs.
Michele Austin (Ripley) and Shaniqua Okwok (Dora) in Manor at the NT. Photo: Manuel Harlan
This sprawling, pacey play works best in its darkly comedic moments – Shaniqua Okwok capturing Dora’s initial horror at finding herself in the manor is a relatable highlight – and also when the fiercely divided parties are arguing their beliefs. In one clever, chilling scene, we witness Ted brainwashing Perry, under the guise of renewing his sense of self.
Less effective is when it slips back into the story's micro, pressing problems, such as finding the missing Pete. By this point, it’s all too absurd for us to believe anyone really cares.
Is there a message in this madhouse manor romp? That the earth is fighting back against our gross mistreatment of it, that we’re overly reliant on technology, that ‘we are our love’ but that individuals are all insignificant in the end, are all put forward at various points. But as the storm surges into a frenzy, leaving us dangling from its peak, it’s Dunn’s visual effects rather than the state of the nation that leaves us talking.
|What||Manor, National Theatre review|
|Where||National Theatre, South Bank, London, SE1 9PX | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
16 Nov 21 – 01 Jan 22, 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM
|Price||£15 - £89|
|Website||Click here for more information|