Manor at the National Theatre
The last time the Buffini sisters worked together at the National was nearly 20 years ago for the exquisite dark comedy Dinner. In Manor, playwright Moira Buffini loses none of the Stygian humour that characterised her last play at the Lyttelton. This new production, though, sees her take the comic dramatic form and mould it into a superbly acute depiction of the socio-political maelstrom that exists in contemporary England.
The raging storm that looms behind the opening scene (with an aesthetic beautifully enhanced by Nina Dunn’s murky video backdrop and Lez Brotherson’s eldritchly angular set) ends with lady of the manor, Diana Stuckley (Nancy Carroll), implicated in the murder of her husband, Pete (Owen McDonnell). As if that event was not cataclysmic enough, things take a more sinister tone when the slick-haired, far-right figure of Ted Farrier (Shaun Evans) takes shelter from the storm in her home with his briefcase-clutching girlfriend Ruth (Amy Forrest) and impressionable acolyte Anton (Peter Bray) in tow.
The natural storm may dissipate after the first act, but the turbulence within the manor swells to a scintillating climax in the second as new acquaintances and relatives of Diana fight to thwart Ted and Ruth gaining control over the manor and its residents.
On this premise alone, the play sounds as though it could be an overtly solemn warning to the audience of the fact that insidious far-right beliefs can even blight the quainter aspects of English life. Indeed, Evans and Forrest play their extremist-endorsing characters with such nauseating, but believable guile it is clear they represent a recognisable threat we should be rightly wary of outside the walls of the National.
However, sisters Moira and Fiona (as playwright and director respectively) have crafted a production that enlightens, entertains, and thrills its audience. Never once does one feel the comic moments are a deliberate contrivance to counterbalance the harder hitting moments of the play. The artistry in achieving this, though, owes as much to the deft and tight-knit performance of the highly skilled ensemble as it does to the skills of the playwright and director.
As such, Manor is a superb way to herald new plays at the Lyttleton, post-Covid. It is easily the best play to be performed there since The Lehman Triology, but one that is far more astute, timely and pertinent. In fact, it could easily prove to the best play the National Theatre has produced this decade.
Photo: Manuel Harlan
Manor is at the National Theatre from 16th November until 1st January 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch a trailer for the production here: