by Sam Holcroft.

Dorfman Theatre Upper Ground South Bank SE1 9PX In rep to 18 July 2015.
3pm 18, 29 Apr, 9, 12, 23 May, 13, 17, 23 Jun, 7 Jul.
8pm 8-11, 17, 18, 20, 21, 28, 29 Apr, 8, 9, 11-13, 21-23 May, 12, 13, 15-17, 22, 23 Jun, 6-8 Jul.
Audio-Described 11 May, 13 jun 3pm (+ Touch Tour).
Captioned 13 May, 15 Jun.
Runs: 2hr 30min One interval.

TICKETS 020 7452 3000.
Review: Carole Woddis 4 April.

A comedy with depth and bite.
Sam Holcroft doesn’t hold back in Rules for Living. Imagine Alan Ayckbourn ratcheted-up a few decibels with a no-holds-barred free-for-all food-fight thrown in and you’ll get some idea of what Holcroft is bringing to the table.

But there’s a little more to it than repetition of the family Christmas-from-hell syndrome, though director Marianne Elliott paints it in unusually garish technicolour.

Holcroft is nothing if not versatile. I remember her original, intensely moving Anton Chekhov revision Vanya at the Gate, Notting Hill, and Dancing Bears, her contribution to Clean Break’s Charged, in which she confronted the gun and knife culture of Britain’s young black community.

So she’s not afraid to confront issues, head-on. In Rules for Living the always-informative Natonal Theatre programme – maybe one of these days, they should perform the programme rather than the play – informs us that the play’s underlying theme is CBT, cognitive-behavioural therapy, whereby patients/clients are helped to see `unhelpful’ patterns or traps of behaviour. We all have them.

Out of this, Holcroft creates a demonic, anarchic comedy rooted in some cruelly authentic observation. Does it work? In the sense that after the storm, transformations occur, yes, here is a play that shows people changing and truth-telling emerging via graphic examples writ large on stage, as if game-show gags. We see how characters can only get their needs met by performing certain habitual traits: over-eating, drinking, mocking, and in the case of Deborah Findlay’s hysterically controlling mother, obsessive cleaning.

Does this make for good theatre? Well, it may certainly be uncomfortable for some for Holcroft takes no prisoners, her humour and progression to domestic melt-down ring painfully true. And needless to say, the acting is perfection. When you have a cast that includes Claudie Blakley and Stephen Mangan, plus Findlay as the spick-and-span, pill-popping, keep-the-show-on-the-road mother with a cameo performance of gleeful groping from the wheelchair-bound John Rogan as the family patriarch, there is much to make one wince as well as appreciate.

She’s a brave woman, Holcroft. She may not make many friends with Rules for Living. But her observations are spot on.

Carrie: Maggie Service.
Matthew: Miles Jupp.
Sheena: Claudie Blakley.
Adam: Stephen Mangan.
Edith: Deborah Findlay.
Francis: John Rogan.
Emma: Daisy Waterstone.

Director: Marianne Elliott.
Designer: Chloe Lamford.
Lighting: Neil Austin.
Sound: Ian Dickinson.
Music: Adrian Sutton .
Fight director: Kate Waters.
Company Voice work: Jeanette Nelson.

World premiere of Rules for Living at the Dorfman Theatre London, 24 March 2015

2015-04-07 10:49:32

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