Rules for Living

The most unfestive event of the year! Rules for Living is a performance that breaks every fourth wall, rocks every family value. Tinsel and foil are never more claustrophobic, a place called home never grimmer. Joyous suffering. Merry havoc.

In an Australian Premiere by British playwright Sam Holcroft and director Kim Farrant, Rules for Living is a movie-length show that is utterly outrageous, delightfully wicked. Anarchy at Yuletide, a witty take on the mundane.

There is much love lost in a family in disarray, a household ribboned in compound crises. Soaring dissent and a culture of keeping it under the carpet, if you have nothing decent to say, why say anything at all?

Writer Holcroft is a dramatist enamoured with the interplay of human relationships. Herein she closely interrogates the psychology of us, the animal in you. In an intersection between creativity and research, she plays out her experiment, goes public on live stage.  Family has never been more endangered, ideals never more extinct. There is nothing unfounded in the neuroses: happiness is totally banned, goodwill fully rationed.

As a teleprompt tings! and the fourth wall comes alive, one by one, family members unveil a new skillset to outrank the ludicrous. Carrie must stand and jig around to tell a joke. Edith must clean and self-medicate to keep calm. Sheena must drink and interrupt to contradict. Adam must effect an accent to mock. Matthew must sit and eat to tell a lie. Rules layer as we go.

Director Kim Farrant puts to fine use a talent that has seen her work with renowned actors like Nicole Kidman, Hugo Weaving and Joseph Fiennes in films like rural outback drama Strangerland (2015). She directs this dramatic feature that embarks on the quirks of a dysfunctional family. The play is melodramatic, both raucously funny and intensely sad. Family secrets come undone, what is not said shouts out loud in obsessive compulsion.

It doesn’t get worse than Xmas horribilis. Or does it? A tyrannical dad now incapacitated. A neurotic mum still untameable. Rivalry between siblings ensnared by a green-eyed sweetheart, the coveting of another’s wife and matrimony on the rocks. Throw the kitchen sink at it, nothing will fix this.

Mince pies fly, maudlin tears flow. There is no smoke screen to save you. This affecting drama is relatable to anyone enmeshed in domestic politics. Joy to the world, just not to this household! You cannot judge people by their worst moments – perhaps there is hope still for the family.

As for Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre, it is yet to disappoint. In partnership with the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, the play features ensemble members Rory Kelly and Caroline Lee alongside guest actors including Jessica Clarke, Mark Dickinson, Jem Nicholas, Ian Rooney, Ella Newton and Lily McCarthy.

Now showing at Red Stitch until 16 April.

Set and Costumes: Sophie Woodward

Lighting: Clare Springett

Sound: Daniel Nixon

Production Manager: Shae Attril


Photo credit Teresa Noble