Rules For Living
Paul Johnson | 24 Sep 2016 17:18pm
Up-and-coming playwright Sam Holcroft’s funny but dark comedy, first produced at the National Theatre only 18 months ago, has already found its way into the amateur arena – and aren’t we lucky! This month, Bromley Little Theatre presents the Ayckbourn-esque family comedy to its faithful audiences in a near-sell-out run.
With military precision, family matriarch Edith (Trish Osborne-King) is hosting her traditional Christmas Day lunch; cue the arrival of both sons – and partners. Recently slimmed-down Matthew (James Mercer) has arrived with his dangerously expressive actor-girlfriend, Carrie (Bethan Boxall), while failed cricketer Adam (Martin Phillips) is accompanied by his ‘pour-me-a-glass-of-wine-and-I’ll-give-it-to-you-straight’ wife, Sheena (Debbie Griffiths) and their psychologically troubled daughter, Emma (Nomi Bailey – unseen until the very end). The last of the seven is Edith’s somewhat lecherous husband, Francis (Felix Catto), who has recently suffered a debilitating stroke and shows up wheelchair-bound towards the end of the first act from the hospital where he is staying.
Christmas Day just wouldn’t be Christmas Day without a good old family argument would it and, in Rules for Living, Holcroft does a sublime job in exposing (and examining) this family’s dysfunctional existence. A game show-style display sits on the rear wall on which, throughout the unfolding action, appears the foibles and survival techniques subconsciously employed by each of our characters in order to stumble through day-to-day life. This might be Matthew, constantly shying away from the truth, with the rule: “Matthew must sit and eat to tell a lie,” or Martin who “…must adopt an accent in order to mock,” or Edith who “…must clean to stay calm.” Focusing the audience’s attention on these human flaws certainly adds an extra layer to Holcroft’s creations, especially when we are invited to observe the offending habit for the very first time. It also exposes aspects which we may otherwise have merely glanced over.
Once we have been introduced to the main sextet, the ‘display’ gimmick arguably becomes a little superfluous and possibly distracting, but with BLT’s pros arch format there is little choice for discretion (The Dorfman Theatre’s in-the-round space at the NT would have naturally offered a more take-it-or-leave-it approach for the audience). That said, the second act breathes new life into the concept adding yet another layer as a game of ‘Bedlam’ (card game) hilariously demonstrates how the ideal family cohesion isn’t that easy when you’re suddenly required to adopt a brand-new set of rules… and, let’s face it, which of those amongst us haven’t almost come to blows over a simple parlour game?
Needless to say, point-scoring, grudges, feuds and resentments eventually boil over until the whole scene descends into complete chaos including flying potatoes, couples rolling around fighting, pulling hair and pouring wine over one another. Not easy for any amateur company to successfully pull off – no matter how much fun the cast may have in rehearsals!
In her direction, BLT’s Chair Jane Buckland has assembled a splendid and experienced cast who each contribute to a gorgeously eclectic mix of characters we can all recognise (told you it was Ayckbourn-esque). Without a discernible weak link, this is a very well-worked ensemble performance from BLT’s top drawer. Miles Jupp and Stephen Mangan are just two actors from the NT’s production who would be hard to follow at the best of times, but their respective Bromley counterparts, James Mercer and Martin Phillips, et al, are easily up for the job; believable, credible, funny and perfectly aware of observing the play’s ‘journey’ throughout.
A last well done must go to Emma Christmas for the excellently choreographed manic fight scene towards the end of act two. When a good onstage brawl looks like it’s happening spontaneously then you can be assured that, in reality, it’s anything but.
- : admin
- : 22/09/2016