Manor takes place in the dark underbelly of North London – a world of pubs, sleazy night clubs and pool halls. As its title suggests, it is about territory: each of the three male characters has a domain that they regard as their own. For the play’s chief protagonist, the brutal Stud (a terrifying performance from Stephen Pucci), it is the empire he has staked out for his protection racket. This he rules over with a studied scowl and the ready use of his knife. For Man (James Kermack), it is the pool hall, where he rules over the punters with Stud’s help. For Joe (Barra Collins), it is his girl, Kel (Elspeth Rae), for whom he feels a sense of ownership fuelled by a fierce mix of adoration and disbelief that she has chosen him.
Much of the play consists of monologues addressed to the audience. Here the characters set out their stalls: Stud’s motto is “live by the sword, die by the sword”; Man has resigned himself to running his pool hall; Joe just wants to be with Kel. The characters also describe most of the action of the play in the same way. This has the effect of suggesting that they are in charge of their own destinies. It’s an illusion. Each is caught up in a world with unbreakable rules: rival football fans straying onto your turf will be punished; a man messing with your girl will be too.
Certain aspects of the play are frustrating. The characters frequently speak too fast; words ricochet off the walls of the theatre and much of the meaning is lost. However, what this does create, together with the sparse set and excellent lighting, is a sense of the fast, unforgiving and brutal world which they inhabit. As the play reaches its climax, characters speak together – a device which again reduces what the audience can understand, but does give a sense of them hurtling towards disaster.
Gangster films have clearly influenced writer Martin Murphy, not only with his characters, but also in the way the action jumps about in time and place. This works less well on stage than it does on screen and at times it is hard to follow the sequence of events. What is clear though is that even in this dark world the light of love can shine. The vicious Stud has known love - unrequited but love all the same. Man’s bitterness seems founded on giving up hope of finding anyone and it is Joe’s love for Kel that brings about the violent denouement of the play.
Curiously Manor is billed as a black comedy. It’s hard to see why. Apart from brief moments when the characters comment on themselves - such as Stud’s “I think I must have a dark sense of humour” - its tone is consistently dark and violent. It is not going to be to everyone’s taste. However the play is a vivid depiction of a particular world and each of the cast members give strong performances. Credit must go to director James Kermack who has managed to create a powerful, if grim, evening of theatre.