Written for The Public Reviews
Martin Murphy is clearly a man obsessed with the shady goings on of East End gangsters. But whilst there are some flashes of lyricism in this piece, Manor is for the most part an aggressively male dominated play that bludgeons the audience around the head with its often incomprehensible monologues and glorification of ‘geezer culture’. Unless you’re as enamoured with the Krays as Murphy is, you’re going to be in for a very long evening.
Characters reminiscent of Guy Ritchie’s creations, only not quite as knowingly funny, circle each other within their ‘Manor’ or ‘gaff’. We have Stud, a petrifying yet stylish psychopath who runs a mini empire of doormen, Man, the overweight balding comic relief and owner of one such ‘gaff’ and Joe, whose boyish wide-eyed innocence hides a much darker destiny than he could have imagined. Sadly it’s one that the audience can see coming a mile off. When he and girlfriend Kel get caught by Stud doing coke and the apple of his eye is brutally mistreated (eyes being the operative word, Kel seems to captivate everyone through nothing but her steely glare) it is obvious what is going to happen.
Perhaps in an attempt to mix up this predictability Murphy’s structure jumps to and from the present to the past, imitating the fast paced rhythm of the aforementioned Ritchie. Sadly this isn’t a film, and the space at The Tristan Bates Theatre is too small for this overblown production, the lights are too slow for the intentioned snaps to black, and the actors can’t get to their starting points due to slightly bemused audience members sat on each side of the stage. Whilst one can clearly see what director James Kermack was trying to do there just simply isn’t enough room, meaning movement goes from slick to stumble.
The cast battle valiantly within their roles, and no one could say that they’re not trying to make this work. But whilst Stephen Pucci creates some nice details to his central anti-hero and James Kermack succeeds in raising a smile or two throughout this long dark process, it really is a struggle for them to create any kind of live interaction either with each other or the audience. Elspeth Rae as Kel has the embarrassing role of literally being nothing but the eye candy, with each attitude filled pose more clichéd than the last and no lines within the text at all; there is no room for women in this world it would seem, unless they are gangster’s molls.
But it’s not only the upsetting (probably unintentional but undeniably present) misogyny that bothers in Manor. The question at the heart of this piece is why tell this story at all? Presupposing that you will inherently be interested in this fairytale world of gangster tussles is a dangerous game and one that seriously backfires here. So whilst it’s not all bad, with funny moments and poetic sentences peppering the harshness, they become buried under a dated obsession which is Manor’s downfall. As the minutes tick by and the tirade of angry monologues just increases, it sadly feels like this is a show which is little but a big dollop of cockney sound and fury.
Runs until 3rd April