A decrepit manor house becomes a refuge in a biblical-level storm for a motley assortment of storm-tossed stragglers. Little do they know that their temporary shelter is riven with structural and relational instability, writes Katie Kelly.
The scene is set for a dramatic sleepover. The publicity for ‘Manor’, written by Moira Buffini and directed by her sister Fiona, had Agatha Christie vibes. Could this be a ‘Mousetrap’ for the 21st Century. The answer is no. I can neither confirm nor deny whether anybody dies. I can say that there is wrestling with vintage guns and a drunken tumble down the stairs.
In some ways Manor is trying to do something much more complex than murder mystery. There is humour, much of it funny. The play contained more one-liners than I could keep pace with. One that did stay with me was “I’m not angry, this is PTSD”, uttered by the teenager Dora outraged by being dragged out of Balham to the countryside and cut off from a phone signal. This humour was out of step with the other feature of the play which appeared to be social commentary.
Like the good houseguests that most of them aren’t, all the uninvited arrivals bring something with them to the impromptu and unwanted ‘house party’. Ted and his blind girlfriend Ruth bring a dark right-wing fascist agenda, which is disturbingly enticing to the mistress of the house, though perhaps she is only after their money? It never became clear why Ruth was blind. Some clunky point about the blind leading the blind? Fat Perry brings nothing at all, not even his meds. The vicar brings a gentle, unthreatening Church of England faith and genuine kindness. London nurse, Ripley, played with impressive depth and nuance under the circumstances by Michele Austin, brings practical skills, much needed common sense, and a vision of what is possible when people pull together, which almost everyone fails to see.
All of the characters were too burdened with the task of political and environmental commentary to be much developed. They reminded me of the long-running Telegraph column, ‘Social Stereotypes’, particularly the Lady of the House and her washed up one-hit-wonder rockstar husband. There is an attempt to make a point about global warming that doesn’t really land. The real-time radicalising by Ted the fascist of vulnerable Perry from the caravan was as nuanced and as mediocre as a session of Prevent training. Sometimes more really is less.
The play seems confused about whether it is trying to entertain or enlighten and risks both in the process. The sets and visual effects are a highlight, so credit to Lez Brotherston. The test of a play that is attempting to be thought-provoking is whether one is still thinking about it after the lights go up. Unfortunately, what one is left with is lots of undeveloped ideas, some of which raise a chuckle but which, like the stranded guests, aren’t going anywhere.
National Theatre until January 1st. Times: 7.30pm. Matinees 1.30pm. Admission: £20 – £89.
Photos: Manuel Harlan