Lloyd Evans Lloyd Evans

The National has become the graveyard of talent: Manor, at the Lyttelton, reviewed

Plus: Ralph Fiennes's Four Quartets is subtle and often brilliant but it's not for those new to Eliot's work

Writer Moira Buffini hasn’t the faintest idea how posh people behave: Nancy Carroll as Lady Diana in Buffini's Manor at the National. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Somewhere in the wilds of England a stately home is collapsing. Rising floodwaters threaten the foundations. Storms break over the leaking roofs. Inside, an argument rages between a snooty moron, Lady Diana, and her drunken Marxist husband who used to be rock star.

This is the chaotic opening of Moira Buffini’s country-house drama Manor. The angry husband picks up a hunting rifle and blasts ornaments to smithereens. Then he chases his wife to the top of a staircase where she hits him with a candlestick. Once the fight ends, more commotion erupts as various groups of evacuees rush in through the front doors. Two women arrive from south London. They’re soaking. A daft local priest shows up, followed by a white supremacist with a broken ankle. Much later, his wife is carried in suffering from a bloodied spine.

This cluttered script is well outside Buffini’s normal range. She likes intimate, delicate chamber pieces, and she enjoys pairing characters with complementary or contrasting qualities. Here she has two wives with violent husbands and two mums with uppity daughters, and she adds a handful of drifters, misfits and losers as well.

It would be tempting to wag a finger at the National and say, ‘Please, you’re better than this.’ But it isn’t

A script-doctor should have spotted the problems long before this show went into rehearsal. There are too many physical injuries, too many snarky teens, too much external chaos, too much mental instability, too many sermons on history and etymology inserted into the clunky dialogue. There’s a ghost in the attic as well, and a character who dies in Act One but who comes back to life after the interval, even though the corpse has been examined by an NHS nurse. School kids are told not to write this badly.

Buffini wants to deliver a state-of-the-nation play that presents England as a society riven by political and ethnic hate.

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