Review: Manor, National Theatre - unsatisfying hodgepodge

As the stage was plunged into darkness at the end of Manor on the National Theatre's Lyttelton stage, I was thinking: What was the point?  

The applause died down and the actors left the stage, I turned to my friend who said what I was thinking before I had the chance.

National Theatre at night
Manor is on the Lyttelton stage at the National Theatre

Manor is an odd play and one that will divide given the mixed response from those sitting around us.

Set in a crumbling restoration-era manor house, on a stormy day with floodwaters rising, Lady Diana Stuckley (Nancy Carroll) is arguing with her husband Pete (Owen McDonnell).

He's off his tits on drugs (to put it bluntly), but the row whiffs of a marriage long past its sell-by date.

When daughter Isis (Liádan Dunlea) appears, there is no cessation of hostilities, and the mood doesn't get any better when strangers start arriving seeking shelter from the storm.

There's Ripley (Michele Austin), a nurse training to be a doctor and moody teenage daughter (Dora) Shaniqua Okwok, who were staying at a nearby holiday cottage.

And the charismatic-as-a-snake, Ted Farrier (Shaun Evans), who is the leader of a far-right group, accompanied by his blind girlfriend Amy (Ruth Forrest) and loyal recruit Anton (Peter Bray) in tow.

Local vicar Fiske (David Hargreaves) and unemployed youth Perry (Edward Judge), who lives in a caravan nearby, make up the group.

Remind you of something?

The set-up immediately reminded me of The Mousetrap, but while Manor is described as darkly comic on the National Theatre website, there isn't a great deal to laugh at unless you find fat-shaming funny.

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Review: Rare Earth Mettle, Royal Court Theatre - humour carries this meaty play

Al Smith's new play Rare Earth Mettle at the Royal Court is a meaty piece that covers a lot of ground, ironic considering the central premise is about the fight for control over one piece of land.

Rare Earth Metal

In Bolivia, Kimsa (Carlo Albán) scratches a living showing tourists around the remnants of colonial silver mines, including a British train, but the land he lives on is rich in the rare and valuable mineral lithium.

Billionaire Henry Finn (Arthur Darvill) wants to buy the land to mine the lithium for batteries for his new range of electric cars. Anna (Genevieve O'Reilly) is a doctor who wants the lithium because research tentatively shows that lithium helps improve mental health.

And Nayra (Jaye Griffiths) wants to use it for political (and financial) gain.

On the surface, there is something inherently good about all their motives - green cars, better health and a leader who wants to make life better for indigenous people.

Tarnished motives

But as the play unfolds, those motives are increasingly tarnished by the devious, corrupt and illegal means they'll go to reach their end goals.

If the play was focused purely on the debate over good motives badly executed, it would make for a really interesting and provocative play, particularly given the sharp wit and humour that weaves through it - more of that in a moment.

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Review: 'Night, Mother, Hampstead Theatre - drama without drama

There's a moment right at the end of 'Night, Mother which tugged on my heartstrings and that surprised me.

The play is set in rural America, where a mother (Stockard Channing) and daughter Jessie (Rebecca Night), who has epilepsy, live together. It's quickly apparent that Jessie is the household organiser, making sure her mother has enough of her favourite sweets and biscuits.

Stockard Channing and  Rebecca Night. Photography by Marc Brenner.
Stockard Channing and Rebecca Night in 'Night, Mother, Hampstead Theatre 2021. Photography by Marc Brenner.

In some ways it reminded me of the premise for Martin McDonagh's The Beauty Queen of Leenane which, coincidentally, I saw earlier in the week at the Lyric Hammersmith, except this relationship has far less hatred and vitriol.

Just what their relationship is, like Beauty Queen, is slowly revealed, but in Marsha Norma's play, it's through the lens of a limited time frame. Very early in the play, Jessie tells her mother she is going to kill herself that evening.

Despite the fact that this will be their last evening together, there is a sort of calm activity.  Mother and daughter talk about the 'why', going over the past, but all the time Jessie is organising and tidying.

There is a confident and steady control about everything she does, but we've not seen her before tonight, so there is nothing to compare her behaviour to; instead, we rely on what she tells us about her feelings. 

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Review: The Mousetrap, St Martin's Theatre - frothy, fun entertainment

Are you allowed to call yourself a theatre fan if you haven't seen The Mousetrap, the West End's longest-running play? Possibly. But I've ticked that box now.

The Mousetrap sign
Photo by Rev Stan

So what was it like? Well, it's a fun, frothy West End play that is in part carried by its status of being long-running and a West End institution.

It's an Agatha Christie, which means everyone acts in a way that puts them under suspicion.

And I don't know if you are like me, but thoughts about characters always cross my mind early on, which I then put to one side but inevitable prove true.

Of course, I never verbalise my suspicions in the interval, so can't prove that I was kinda on the right track. But I was, so there. Not that I guessed everything because I didn't.

There are some nice little twists, as you'd expect from Christie.

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Review: The Normal Heart, National Theatre - from anger to heart-wrenching

The Normal Heart is a play of fights. Set in the early 80s, in New York, gay men are dying, but gay activist Ned Weeks (Ben Daniels) is struggling to get anyone to do anything.

Only Dr Emma Brookner (Liz Carr), who is trying to treat the increasing numbers of sick men, shares his concern and sense of urgency. 

 

The Normal Heart pre performance National Theatre
The Normal Heart is staged in the round at the National Theatre. Photo: Rev Stan

 

While Ned and Dr Brookner agree something needs to be done, they don't see eye to eye on what and how.

As the death toll rises in New York and beyond, Ned gathers a growing group of volunteers to raise awareness among the gay community and campaign to get funding and support from the authorities.

Ned's approach is to be direct, to shout and stamp, but others prefer a softer, more diplomatic tone; there is more at stake than losing lovers and friends.

Fight for recognition

This isn't just a fight for life, it's a fight to smash stereotypes. It's a fight for the recognition of a community and the right to be out and proud - or not - without prejudice.

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Review: Is God Is, Royal Court Theatre - superb quirky, dark revenge comedy

Two actors on stage describe their characters as if the direction in the playtext is part of the script. It is the first of many quirks in Aleshea Harris' dark revenge comedy Is God Is.

Is God Is-15-09-21-Royal Court-1214
(l-r) Adelayo Adedayo and Tamara Lawrence in Is God Is, Royal Court. Photo Tristram Kenton

Twin sisters Racine (Tamara Lawrence) and Anaia (Adelayo Adedayo) receive a letter from their mother (Cecilia Noble), whom they thought was dead.

When they visit her, she tells them her dying wish is that she is avenged for a horrific past crime, and so the two set off from the "Dirty South" to California armed with just a name and a determination to carry out their mother's deadly wishes.

Dressed differently by their mother as young children so she could tell them apart, Racine is the natural leader, often protecting her more 'emotional' sister Anaia. But their mission proves revealing both about their family, their mother's past and themselves.

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(l-r) Adelayo Adedayo,  Ray Emmett Brown, Tamara Lawrence in Is God Is, Royal Court. Photo Tristram Kenton

The brutality that fuels and defines the narrative is played out against incongruous sets of candy-coloured houses, cartoon-like props and sound effects. There are backdrops that would look at home in a spaghetti western and signs in different styles that announce each scene.

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Review: Camp Siegfried, Old Vic Theatre - teen romance and radicalisation

Camp Siegfried is more than a German-themed summer camp for German Americans in 1938 Long Island; alongside all the usual fun activities, Nazi doctrines are openly pedalled.

Old Vic Camp Siegfried
Camp Siegfried, Old Vic, Sept 2021. Photo: Rev Stan

The camp is based on a real Camp Siegfried, which operated in the 1930s and included flower beds in the shape of swastikas.

Bess Wohl's play sets the innocence of a teen romance against a backdrop of fascist grooming.

Our teenagers, played by Patsy Ferran and Luke Thallon, are in the process of finding out who they are and what they want out of life. They are impressionable but without realising it. 

Thallon's Him is 17 and already fully immersed in the camp and its values, having visited several times before. He spots Ferran's Her, a shy 16-year old and makes a bee-line towards her.

It's her first camp, she's there with an Aunt and not finding it easy. The marching bands are loud, she doesn't like dancing and is no good at sports or anything outdoorsy.

Romance is encouraged

As the two hang out together more and more, we learn of how 'romance' is encouraged to further the Nazi cause and, through camp gossip, how the reality is often inexperienced fumblings and embarrassment, not the great love and conquest most anticipate. 

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Review: The Memory of Water, Hampstead Theatre - siblings spar over childhood memories

In the bedroom set on the Hampstead Theatre stage, three grown-up sisters are arguing or is it bickering? Even that becomes a point of contention. It will be a scene familiar to many with siblings, the shared upbringing that can be a comfort but equally provide all the right triggers to arguments.

The Memory of Water Production Image 7 Sitting Front L-R Lucy Black  Carolina Main Back Laura Rogers © Helen Murray sml
The Memory of Water, Hampstead Theatre 2021. Front L-R Lucy Black Carolina Main Back Laura Rogers © Helen Murray

The three sisters in Shelagh Stephenson's play The Memory of Water - Teresa (Lucy Black), Mary (Laura Rogers) and Catherine (Carolina Main) - have gathered at their mother's home ahead of her funeral.

Teresa, the oldest, runs a herbal remedy business with her solid husband Frank (Kulvinder Ghir), always organising and making lists but tired of taking all the responsibility.

Mary is a doctor and having an affair with married TV doctor Mike (Adam James). She's the 'successful' one, perceived as the golden child who had an easy ride. But she's haunted by her mother Vi's resentful ghost (Lizzie McInnerny) and finding something from her past.

Catherine is the youngest. Over from Spain, where she lives with the latest in a string of unfaithful boyfriends. She's a hypochondriac, irresponsible ("broke doesn't mean you can't buy stuff") and feels overlooked, which makes her self-centred and needy.

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Interview: Theatre creativity during lockdown and its legacy - with Chloe Nelkin

Instagram Live chat with Chloe Nelkin

Chloe Nelkin has run theatre, arts and opera PR company, Chloe Nelkin Consulting, for 10 years, and we sat down to talk about how theatres responded during lockdown and what the legacy will be. I also asked her what we should look out for and what she's most looking forward to seeing.

You can watch the full chat with Chloe on IGTV (link below).

What was it like when lockdown was announced in March 2020?

Crikey, it was devastating. Everything that we know and loved in this industry was just torn apart. The live entertainment industry, the very nature of it is all about being out and about and suddenly we were all locked inside for our own safety.

So, it was a horrible time, especially as we didn't know how long it was going to go on for and if everybody would get through it.

At the beginning of March, we'd actually celebrated CNC 10th anniversary and brought together loads of our past clients and our current clients and friends, and it was then the most bizarre thing that a week later suddenly that was all ripped away from us.  So it was bittersweet as, of course, we just entered such a horrible 18 months.

What was the response from theatres like?

I think what was incredible was the resilience of so many theatres, particularly smaller theatres, who were suddenly working to get their programmes online, were working within the restrictions to try and film new work to still make things accessible.

Or were commissioning and coming up with new projects or fundraising initiatives.

Just thinking back to what we worked on, we worked on something called All The Web's A Stage for Shakespeare day last April. And loads of artists came together and just donated their time to raise money for those in the arts who were affected by the pandemic.

So they were amazing initiatives like that.  We also worked with High Tide, and they commissioned five new writers to create pieces in response to what was going on: Love in the time of Corona.

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NEWS: My first Instagram Live interview with Chloe Nelkin - and plans for the future

Very excited (and nervous) to be doing my first Instagram Live interview next week with theatre and opera PR and all-around lovely person Chloe Nelkin.

We're going to be chatting about theatre (naturally), including what was produced during the lockdown and how that will shape theatre in the future.

It's happening on Tuesday 7 September at 7 pm GMT on my Instagram channel.

If you've been a visitor to my theatre blog for a while, you may have seen my Q&A interviews with theatre creators.

These were always done via email, mainly for time and logistics reasons.

But it is never the same as chatting in person, which is something I've always wanted to do (I'm a professional question asker by day 🙂).

And I'm hugely curious about how theatre is made and the creative process - and all things theatre, really.

I toyed with starting a theatre podcast, but it's a big investment of time to produce and promote, and there are costs involved. I know this mainly because I'm launching a podcast for my business.

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