What’s it all about?
Look on Twitter this morning and you’d be forgiven for thinking the answer is the most epic food fight ever seen on the British stage to date. And while this certainly earns the prize for the funniest scene on stage in recent months, Sam Holcroft’s brilliantly witty, clever and utterly compelling comedy has much more to offer than the chance of getting your face sprayed with mashed potato.
The setting is the kitchen and living room of one gloriously dysfunctional family unit, given a canny twist courtesy of Chloe Lamford’s basketball court meets Monopoly board set. At either end are score boards ready to inject mischief, awkwardness, cruel taunting and deceit into proceedings as every spin brings up a rule for each family member to live by. But while it may be easy enough to sit every time you tell a lie or drink every time you contradict, as the day unfolds the stakes are raised and antes are upped as the board keeps moving the parameters of decent behaviour…
Who’s in it?
A hugely impressive ensemble will have you both rooting for and feeling sickened by this family who make point scoring an Olympic sport. A wonderfully sour Deborah Findlay rules as the matriarch with a degree in passive aggression. As her eldest, Miles Jupp is both endearing and irritatingly feckless while as his ever so slightly less successful brother, Stephen Mangan proves himself a stage force to be reckoned with, giving a flawless performance as a dogmatic, man-child whose failed cricket career has left him sarcastic and bitter.
Maggie Service is awkwardly brilliant as a girlfriend who is tolerated rather than embraced, her laugh just that bit too loud, her clothes ever so slightly too bright, while Claudie Blakey plays the sanctimonious Sheena with just the right equilibrium between smugness and desperate insecurity.
What should I look out for?
If you’re from a family of game players – by which I mean Bananagrams and Taboo rather than belittling and manipulation, of course – look out for Holcroft’s blisteringly funny scene in which Jupp nails the frustration of attempting to teach everyone the rules of a new card game.
Marianne Elliott’s sometimes naturalistic, sometimes ridiculous but always excruciatingly funny direction.
In a nutshell?
Christmas comes early at the National Theatre with Marianne Elliott gifting audiences a hilarious, manic and compelling dysfunctional family drama that leaves everyone with egg – and custard and gravy and turkey – on their faces.
What’s being said on Twitter?
@matttrueman Imagine Alan Ayckbourn clawing his fingernails down a blackboard. That’s Rules For Living @NationalTheatre. Brilliant.
@tds153 Rules for Living at the National: one of those plays that gives couples a great night out. Then causes a huge row in the car home.
Will I like it?
The experience of watching Rules For Living is akin to watching an astutely observed hilarious sitcom. With brilliantly playful direction, it’s compelling, compulsive and you really care for the characters, however hideous they might be behaving. Take that as a big fat, gravy soaked, custard covered yes.