Moira Buffini’s new play has opened at the National Theatre, directed by sister Fiona Buffini.

First impressions really do count, and when the curtain lifts on Manor it is quite breathtaking – this is one of the coolest pieces of set design we’ve ever seen. We couldn’t take our eyes off Lez Brotherston’s surreal creation – all out of proportion, with fixtures and fittings leaning at worrying angles, everything looks like it’s about to fall over any second – which is perfect for a play set in a crumbling, decaying mansion.

At this stage of a review we usually like to give a succinct summary of the show, but the sheer quantity of stuff happening in Manor makes that tricky. Set in the country home of Lady Diana Stuckley (Nancy Carroll) during the worst storm they’ve ever seen, she and her daughter take in a large cast of refugees seeking shelter from the rain. In the mix is the enigmatic leader of the far-right Albion party Ted Farrier (Shaun Evans), alongside his girflfriend and a protege, a local priest, a hapless nearby caravan dweller and a mother and daughter from Balham wanting a weekend escape from the city.

This ragtag bunch explore a whole range of big issues from polarised politics to climate change and there’s a quirky subplot about a missing body. It’s really quite a lot to squeeze in – even at a running time exceeding two and a half hours. It has the feeling of a story that bites off rather more than it can chew – lots of topics are covered, but none explored satisfactorily. It doesn’t help that there’s not a huge amount of nuance in the characters – the heroes are obviously good, the villains are obviously bad, those who are led astray are clearly easy to exploit.

There are a couple of notable saving graces, in addition to the glorious set design. The acting is generally very strong – clearly these actors are doing their best with these roles, and there are some wonderfully entertaining moments. The script has its moments, too – granted the story is a bit all over the place, but there are lots of brilliant standalone lines. There are a couple of particularly great speeches, notably some unifying words from A&E nurse Ripley (Michele Austin), and there are a handful of witty jokes scattered throughout.

We were expecting a bit more from Manor, however, and it’s a shame it doesn’t all come together particularly coherently. We left the theatre thinking it was a bit overambitious – in tackling so many big issues and with such a large, disparate gathering of people, it doesn’t really achieve much in a satisfying manner. There are lots of individually strong elements to this play but, disappointingly, it never adds up to more than the sum of its parts.

GAY TIMES gives Manor – 3/5

More information can be found here.