When I went down to Alec Clegg theatre, I wasn’t expecting to be showered in fragments of mashed potato, see a character being groped by an immobilised geriatric, or feel so festive over a month away from Christmas. Rules for Living provided all this in abundance.
Rules for Living takes place on one disastrous Christmas day. The bubbly (and at times, irritating) Carrie is nervous to spend Christmas with her boyfriend Matthew’s family, who is in love with his brother Adam’s fiancée. To make things worse, Matthew and Adam’s mother, Edith, is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and their father has suffered a stroke. But it doesn’t end there. Each character has a ‘rule’ which they must abide by, which is projected above the stage for the audience to see. For example, Matthew must sit down in order to lie.
Directors Jess Moncur and Georgina Wormald succeeded in controlling the descent into chaos, with each character becoming increasingly hysterical, as chunks of Yorkshire pudding and stray sprouts fly into the laps of bemused audience members. Although the small stage could have felt crowded at times, the clearly well-rehearsed and intricate movements of characters made it seem fluid and seamless. However, I feel that there were certain moments where the ‘rules’ could have been exploited more. It isn’t made particularly clear to the audience whether or not the characters were aware of their own rules, which could have perhaps been made more clear to help with the comedy and cohesiveness of the play.
On the whole, Lily Moult as Edith undoubtedly gave the standout performance. Her perfect comedic timing and mastery of the role was incredible to witness, and she had the audience in stitches as the neurotic and befuddled mother-hen. Edith’s ‘rules’ were to clean and self-medicate in order to relieve stress, and so even when the focus wasn’t on her she was still bringing in laughs and never fell out of character.
On the whole, the play was enormous fun, and the ‘dark’ elements it contained, with allusions to cognitive behavioural therapy, were skilfully crafted into the comedy, making it funny without allowing it to morph into a farce. Moncur and Wormald did an excellent job with Sam Holcroft’s most recent play, and I’m sure the following two nights will be sold-out just like opening night.