Review: Women of the Manor

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Staying true to the concealed identities, flamboyant insults and double entendres of the Renaissance comedy, ’s play Women of the Manor explores queerplatonic friendship with true affection and wit.

Opening on fretting servants and explosive mistresses, the plot follows the attempts of Celine (Isabel Bainbridge) and a reluctantly enlisted Rebecca (Iqra Khadiza) to reconcile the feuding Isabel and Nadiya, portrayed by and respectively. Establishing atmosphere with a mixture of inviting hominess and sophistication, the set saw fairy lights lining the traverse, magazines draped on a chaise and the immersion of the audience in girl pop bangers – highly effective in projecting warmth and intimacy onto the otherwise expansive Hild Bede Chapel. Particular credit therefore should go to the creative and production team for this design, including lighting designer and production manager Angus Webb Hammond.

Moments of action or soliloquy between pews were however very engaging; the choice to communicate inner thought through proxemic to audience members used the space to good advantage

Regarding the choice of venue, it must be said to have presented challenges despite the clear efforts from the directorial team ( and Eleanor Thornton, assisted by Scout Pemberton) to block within the space. Specifically, the echoey nature meant that many lines on the altar were lost which was disappointing, considering that some of the sharpest instances of Moore’s dialogue registered slightly too late. While this could have been improved partially by greater projection and a more outward delivery, the cast generally managed this well. Moments of action or soliloquy between pews were however very engaging; the choice to communicate inner thought through proxemic to audience members used the space to good advantage. Additionally, costume proved especially successful when projecting the personality of individuals, the best examples manifesting in the contrast of the sweet May’s (Paloma Hoyos) pastel cardigan and the more pragmatic Tess’ (Mopsy Peel) white button-down. Moments of comedy additionally emerged via the use of dress, Khadiza’s translation into a beanie and hoodie-wearing Kerkylas of Andros providing one of the largest laughs of the night.

On the subject of comedy, the instances proving the most engaging of the piece manifested in the interactions of Celine and Rebecca – the initial contrast of spikiness and bubbliness rooted each actor in their character wonderfully, and each’s grasp of pace in these scenes was greatly demonstrated. Warming up throughout the play, every cast members’ characterisation was assured and pleasing, resulting ultimately in a cohesive ensemble. Whether it be the wonderfully harried as Cook, ’s bitingly sardonic Isabel or ’s aloof Fool, both cast and directorial team crafted thoughtful portrayals.

Warming up throughout the play, every cast member’s characterisation was assured and pleasing, resulting ultimately in a cohesive ensemble

As such, Women of the Manor is a low-stakes and feeling exploration of female friendship, punctuated with the Shakespearean tendency of Moore’s vision. For some a welcome alternative to the typically grittier performances on the Durham stage, the focus on devotion and forgiveness surrounds the chapel in cosiness, and lesbian and asexual presence was lovely to see in such a casually and centrally depicted manner.

Image credit: Pitch Productions

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