Rules for Living by Sam Holcroft.

Rules for living directed by John Chapman is one of the most realistic Christmas plays I have seen in a long time. The decorations are up, presents are wrapped and dinner is in the oven. What more could anyone else wish for, silent night perhaps?

It’s a Christmas family nightmare which in my experience represents many forced families reunited over the festive period all desperate to be somewhere else and who avoid each other the rest of the year. Coming back together for a few days each of them tries remembering how they need to behave around one other. With each family member managing to fail miserably.

The main five characters have no intention of listening to each other on any matter or attempting to tolerate one another’s opinions without snide comments, cutting glares and arguments. The picture below sums up some of those looks.

As the revelations begin to unravel tempers flare, hidden dirty family secrets are released and suppressed emotions surface very fast. It’s a high-speed play set in real-time all taking place on Christmas day.

Brothers Adam (Dickon Farmer) and Matthew (Adam Hampton-Matthews) in appearance seem to be very different. However, Father’s pressure from being a high powered Judge pushed both of them into jobs as solicitors which neither seem to be happy about. As the play progresses the arguments and petty behaviour between the two is incredibly believable as they descend back to childhood behaviour. The rivalry and comments to one another are at times are extremely uncomfortable to listen to. The pair are pictured below in full flight.

The screen to the right of the stage pings up a rule each time a character is introduced. Allowing to watch their mannerisms and see the cues as their body language and behaviour changes to fit with how they cope with difficult circumstances.

The family try to unite yet fail in helping support Emma (Helena Braithwaite) Adam and Sheena’s (Hattie Hahn) daughter who is suffering from anxiety and depression, which for the vast majority of the play you never see. Through the help of her CBT counsellor, she has been learning methods in how to cope and change her own outlook on her life. However, the rest of the family could certainly benefit from CBT too.

Mum Edith played by Rosanna Preston copes with difficult situations by cleaning frantically. However, with her attitude to just gloss things over and pretend they are not happening, I found myself becoming frustrated with her which I am sure is the desired effect.

The energy and passion from the entire cast are clearly generated through the frustration and anger of a family completely at breaking point and with Christmas at the family home being the last place any of them actually want to be.

A really good alternative to pantomime to go and watch as part of the festive season and the energy from the production certainly raised my adrenaline. A word of warning if you sit in the front row be aware of flying sweets.

Four Stars.

Photo credit David Sprecher.

For more details and tickets please visit the link below.

Rules For Living