Review: Rules for Living

Pippa Smith 17 November 2016

Walking into the ADC theatre, the sounds of ‘Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer’ and the sight of a Christmas tree on stage was inevitably met by audience scrooges huffing that “Bridgemas has gone too far”. But the opening night of Rules for Living was well worth getting into the Christmas spirit for, and promises a funny, yet thought-provoking night out for the rest of the week.

The cast were strong for the most part, but, the character acting style was not unified. At times, it seemed like the actors were from two different plays. Although Sam Holcroft's darkly comic script does call for a light-hearted tone at times, there were points where exaggerated characterisation felt like too much. The play calls for a subtle dark humour, and there was a risk of over-the-top acting making it seem farcical and more like a pantomime.  

The script was good, modern and deeply serious under the layers of humour and the ridiculous ‘rules of living’: the play touches on issues like anxiety, couples’ therapy and the impact of strokes. The ending is unexpected, giving a twang to the Christmassy buzz, setting the finale apart from the funny anarchy that governed the build-up. The cast managed the switches in tone well, and the final reflective scenes were the most persuasively perfomed part of the play.

The set looked professional, and was perfectly suited to fit the mood of the play. Setting the production in a dining room highlighted the intimacies of a family Christmas, and the space made available by the set was used well and to its full. The addition of the ‘rules’ projected above the stage and actors was impressive, and the lighting and sound effects that accompanied this were flawless: it was clear this had been meticulously rehearsed. 

The play was in danger of dragging in the first half, but the pace picked up after the interval. All considered, it was a great night out, lifted by a superb script and excellent actors.