Theatre Review: Rules for Living


Presented by: Adelaide Repertory Theatre
Reviewed: 30th August 2018

Rules for Living is a dark comedy about family dysfunction and societal norms by Sam Holcroft. The play follows a family preparing for Christmas lunch and tensions begin to rise as they deal with family issues. Holcroft uses the psychological theory that people reinforce negative behaviour traits each time they fall back on them as coping strategies (“rules for living”) at stressful times.

Christmas is the obvious setting; the one day a year that brings together families through custom and obligation and asks them to follow the rulebook of expectations.  Director Megan Dansie has assembled a fine group of actors to play these challenging roles. The matriarch of the family, Edith (Penni Hamilton-Smith) is uptight and old-fashioned, a stickler for traditions, doubly so with her husband Francis (Norm Caddick) due back from hospital for the day. Her two sons Matthew (Chris Eaton) and Adam (Steve Marvanek) have returned home with their partners: Carrie (Megan Doherty), a histrionic actress, and Sheena (Jaye Gordon), a new-age neurotic with an unhealthy reliance on alcohol and over protective of her daughter (Emily Hodgkison) who makes a brief appearance from her ‘sick’ bed.

The action is easy to follow thanks to the rules appearing in the set ‘window’.  Every movement, gesture, or voice is dictated over by the “rules” which the actors must follow to function correctly. Each focus on common coping strategies and behavioural traits such as the weight conscious Matthew needing to sit and eat when lying, Edith cleaning to stay calm, Sheena drinking before contradicting. All are designed to cause conflict, so that simmering resentments boil over.

This play is often likened to the Alan Ayckbourn style of farce and it is indeed very funny but the careful, intelligent analysis of family dynamics and human behaviour also make it excruciating to watch! I doubt there was a single audience member who couldn’t relate to aspects of their own families or found themselves cringing in self recognition.

My only criticism is that it is long for this style of comedy; it would have had even greater impact had Holcroft left out a scene or two.

A fine production, don’t miss it.

Reviewed by Trish Francis

 Venue:  Arts Theatre
Season:  Aug 30th – September 8th
Duration:  150 Minutes with interval
Tickets:  Adult: $22 / Concession $17



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