Tower Theatre’s production of Rules for Living, written by Sam Holcroft is a bold Christmas choice because this reminds us what Christmas means to many; horrible family gatherings.
Matthew (Adam Hampton Matthews ) and his girlfriend Carrie ( Kasia Chodurek ) are spending their first Christmas together with his older brother Adam (Dickon Farmer) , Adam’s wife Sheena ( Hattie Hahn), Adam and Sheena’s teenage daughter Emma ( Helena Braithwaite ) and Adam and Matthew’s parents Edith ( Rosanna Preston ) and Francis ( Tom Tillery ). Over one afternoon years of tension and resentment spill out and ruin the Christmas lunch.
As a production John Chapman’s production is as bold as the subject matter; a risky reliance on technology to remind the audience of the characters’ rules for living and that life is just one big game where nobody wins or losers but survives and a large cast (originally produced by National Theatre) you can see why it hasn’t had much a revival. As a play it is not exceptional; white middle class family question their existence/repress their feelings but Holcroft’s writing and focus on CBT gives this family drama an interesting twist, with the generational divides on approaches to illness and treatment with Edith self-medicating to cope with her denial of how badly Francis was affected by a stroke and Sheena talking openly about Emma’s Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the divide between the outgoing and irritating Carrie and the sedate family she wants to belong to.
The cast cope well with hectic nature particularly Chodurek as the insecure Kasia and Farmer as Adam, a man living with regrets that has distanced himself from his wife and family. Preston’s Edith a picture of controlled chaos, doing things out duty rather than love and the relationship between Matthew and Sheena’s characters was believable as two people who find closeness out of convenience rather than any shared goals.
Whilst this might not be your traditional Christmas story for many it will ring too true.
Rules for Living is on until 7 December 2019 https://www.towertheatre.org.uk/event/rules-for-living/