About Time You Saw: Rules for LivingBy Gilly Hopper
‘Rules: one of a set of explicit or understood regulations or principles governing conduct or procedure within a particular area of activity.’
Quick, comic and self-deprecating, Rules for Living, written by Sam Holcroft, makes its world premiere at the Dorfman Theatre as the last new play under former National Theatre director Nicholas Hytner. Returning to their childhood home for a family festive lunch, brothers Matthew (Miles Jupp) and Adam (Stephen Mangan), reconvene for an archetypical chaotic Christmas. Extended families in tow, Matthew’s effusive comedy-actress girlfriend Carrie (Maggie Service) invites herself to Christmas lunch ‘dressed like the front window of Hamleys,’ while Adam’s wife Sheena (Claudie Blakley) and their teenage daughter Emma (Daisy Waterstone), begrudgingly make an appearance. As the family prepare for the arrival of their ill father Francis (John Rogan) from hospital, house rules and traditions are reinstated; everyone has a task to do.
Set designer Chloe Lamford places their open plan family home centre stage. An overlay of court markings section off the family’s domain, with overhanging colour-coded scoreboards used to mark the set’s end zones. The colour-coded scoreboard serves as an authoritative voice that discloses each of the players long-held coping mechanisms. Tensions abound through festive rituals as lives, rules and disciplines are questioned and challenged and relationships begin to deconstruct. Desperately trying to score points, brothers Matthew and Adam enter a verbal volley of their failed careers. Matthew’s acting ambitions, which once saw him tread the boards as Major General in Pirates of Penzance, are counter-argued with Adam’s former cricket star career trajectory to lackluster legal eagle. Sibling rivalry flows with sheer abandon, with Stephen Mangan’s deftly executed comic impersonations are timed to perfection.
Director Marianne Elliott reins havoc over proceedings, underpinning the cast’s movements. Matthew tries to eat his way out of most situations. His hilarious search for vegan mince pies and carrot peelings to comply with the rules that guide him, he “must sit and eat to tell a lie,” reflect emotional traps and fall backs that are evident throughout the family. Their fastidious mother, Edith (Deborah Findlay), must “clean and self medicate” to keep calm. Armed with aspirin and rubber gloves, Deborah tenaciously maintains an air of passive aggression that could send shudders down the spines of son in laws everywhere. Ultimately long-held rivalries and resentments will out, as raucous behaviour reach tipping point. The National Theatre’s Head Chef, Simon Flint, deserves special mention for Act Two’s gastronomic food fight, as accusations and turkey legs fly through the room. Sitting in his chair, Francis’ retains a subtle roguish glimmer, happily picking at the poultry in an unassumingly hilarious enactment of a more laid-back approach to living when the rules don’t apply to you.
In a play about constantly changing rules, Rules for Living, analyses the bizarre strategies people adopt in an effort to cope with everyday life.
Until July 8, www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/rules-for-living