Wouldn’t it be nice if we all knew the rules for living? Or would it? As in this 2015 play, everyone seems to have different rules – and don’t we all?! And with or without all the different rules, even within a family, as in this play, things can go alarmingly and hilariously awry.
When the curtain rises, the simple set (by Director, Megan Dansie with Ben Todd) of a traditional suburban kitchen-dining room belies the complexities of communication and behaviour that follow. Two other things are not typical: there is a Christmas Tree to set the period, and there’s a screen on which the Rules each person harbours are displayed as the play progresses. This is an unusual but useful device which lets us in to some inner thoughts and motivations, much of which would otherwise be lost. For example, knowing that Matthew (Chris Eaton) has to sit – and later, to eat as well – to tell a lie, means that his sitting and standing and nibbling have more meaning and appended humour, which he successfully makes the most of.
As the plot continues towards its denoument as a funny-family-comedy-meets-a-dinner-party-farce, there is a range of emotions, rivalries, conflicts, evasions, jealousies, secrets, denials, cover-ups and obfuscations effectively conveyed by this talented cast.
Steve Mavarnek as the elder brother, Adam manages a wide range of emotions and accents (his Rule, while mocking and name calling, of which he does plenty). Jaye Gordon as his somewhat estranged and hard drinking wife is more concerned about their daughter’s “condition”, “Energy Envelope”, Chronic Fatigue and “need” for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Megan Doherty is Matthew’s anxious girlfriend Carrie who has to dance around and be over-exuberant to cover her embarrassment.
As Edith, the mother of the two boys, Penni Hamilton-Smith shines as she strives to make everything perfect, attempts to manage all communication and ensure there is no fuss, until the situation finally descends into chaotic bedlam, in spite of her Rule that she must clean and self medicate to remain calm. This is a gem of a part, beautifully portrayed. Her delivery of the speech announcing the arrival of her dementing husband (Norm Caddick) is masterful.
This play by British writer Sam Holcroft has echoes of Alan Ayckbourn, but introduces new ideas and devices that take it further. As such it is a challenge for any cast and director, to manage the steady descent into mayhem, and find some resolution afterwards, without being preposterous or over done. This production, perceptively and cleverly directed by Megan Dansie, meets this challenge with class, and is a credit her and to all involved.
Adelaide Repertory Theatre presents
Rules For Living
by Sam Holcroft
Director Megan Dansie
Venue: Arts Theatre | Angas Street, Adelaide SA
Dates: 30 August – 08 September 2018
Bookings: 08 8212 5777 | www.adelaiderep.com