There are many 'Rules for Living'. Most are self-contained and unspoken. Nevertheless, what better a time than Christmas to elucidate these rules? After it’s critically acclaimed run at the National Theatre in 2015, Rules for Living is back with a bang for a co-production with English Touring Theatre and Rose Theatre Kingston.
With Christmas looming, Lily Arnold’s design of a recognisable family home on Christmas day certainly triggers my excitement for the festive season. Simon Godwin’s naturalistic direction is so relatable that one can't help but smile along to such typical events and family feuds at Christmas. For some, Christmas might be a time to consolidate with others, which seems to be the case for brother’s Matthew and Adam who are quite the opposite. The piece begins with the group gathering and preparing for the day ahead whilst waiting upon the arrival of their father, Francis. We are humoured with classic, bogus family chat. The recognisable phrase “never mind me, what about you?” reoccurs throughout, highlighting typical English courtesy that is often undoubtedly manufactured. Sam Holcroft conspires against these normative conventions. Matthew welcomes his spirited girlfriend Carrie for Christmas whilst Adam is obliged to manage his soon to be ex-wife Nicole and their daughter Emma, who is suffering from psychological issues - it's safe to say tensions within the family is apparent.
As Holcroft slots in one rule at a time they are presented to us, as Brecht would propose, through clear projection ‘cards’ above the house. For instance, “Matthew must sit to tell a lie” - rules that would seem straightforward and obvious manage to amuse every time Jolyon Coy sits down. As the rules intensify, so does the Christmas chaos. One could question the reason for the rules. Is Holcroft suggesting we need to address these rules in authentic life settings? The performances are a pleasure to watch, with Carlyss Peer as Carrie, fantastically and awkwardly struggling to fit in with the family. Peer clumsily charms her way through the family quarrels, ending with a hysterical yet heart-breaking routine when Matthew declares his love for another. Jolyon Coy as Matthew is frustratingly excellent to watch as the character deepens himself in lies. Laura Rogers as Nicole, is described as ‘intense’ and is most certainly that, particularly when she makes a ferocious stand to be the one to carve the turkey. Jane Booker as Edith, the frantic, military-like mother is spot on, handing out specific tasks to the next generation from her timely experience. Ed Hughs as Adam is unquestionably the winner of his rule; his over familiar accents, characters and expressions were performed exceptionally. Francis, played by Paul Shelley is almost silent throughout, yet brutally comical in his small but prominent actions. Emma, played by Siena Rista, enters confidently yet innocently as she expresses the understanding of her illness, which leaves the adults looking self-indulgent and egoistic. Is this Holcroft’s message? The overstated fight seems almost unnecessary amongst such clever direction and writing, but we are still left wanting more of Holcroft’s intelligent comedy and questioning what Rules for Living we abide by in our own lives. Rules for Living is a must-see show as the festive season approaches upon us. - Holly Kellingray