Despite the presence of Nancy Carroll and Shaun Evans, Moira Buffini’s Manor proves a disappointment at the National Theatre
“Truth is the argument that wins”
Truth is, Manor can’t help but end up as something of a disappointment. Starring national treasure-in-the-making Nancy Carroll and Vigil-hot Shaun Evans, written by Moira Buffini who has been doing interesting things on both film and TV, and having been building anticipation since before COVID (the show was in rehearsal at the National Theatre when lockdown first hit), hopes were certainly high but the reality is something a little far right of the mark.
It’s undoubtedly a play of big ideas and Buffini seems to have decided to include all of the ones she has in here. Climate changes rubs shoulders with homegrown far-right nationalism, murder mystery vibes clash with country house farce stylings and as we settle into sitcom mode, a disaster movie kicks in. The result in an unholy mess which gathers its unlikely motley crew of unlikeable characters for too long a time in an admittedly elegant set (Lez Brotherston).
Carroll plays Lady Diana Stuckley, the lady of the literal crumbling manor house whose marriage is in a similar state of disrepair. And on a particularly dark and stormy night, a number of people turn up at her door looking for shelter and perhaps something more. Chief among them is Evans’ Ted, the leader of far-right group Albion, whose seductive ways work on more than one of the house’s new inhabitants as a lot of people make a lot of speeches.
Fiona Buffini’s production does little to resolve this uncertainty of tone, lurching between genres and failing to knit anything satisfying around the speechifying. And there’s genuinely uncomfortable moments too – the raft of fat jokes feel cruel and the use of racist language, even in so-called context, feels gratuitous, you can feel the titters from certain parts of the audience laughing with rather than at what’s happening, completely undermining the point of the production.