Rules for Living, The Dorfman Theatre, National Theatre, London. March 2015
After a break of a couple of hours we were back on the South Bank to see the second play of the day in the newly refurbished Dorfman Theatre. As this is a 'black box' theatre that can be reconfigured for any play I'm afraid that I didn't notice any changes in the actually auditorium but the foyer, cafe, cloakroom and loos were all very nice!
This play couldn't have been more different from Man and Superman if it has tried and if we hadn't known this was only the second preview I don't think I would have guessed.
The set depicts the ground floor of a large house - living room, dining area and kitchen - all set up on a basket ball court complete with electronic score board at either end. It is Christmas Day and the family are gathering for Christmas dinner.
It is like watching a car crash in slow motion. There are secrets in the family which slowly become clear and all of the main players have created their own 'rules for living'. As these become relevant they are flashed up on the scoreboard, this means that as the audience we saw extra humour in the characters that wasn't in the script just by their actions. One character for instance can only lie if he is sitting down and eating something, and as he is with a girl friend he doesn't love and has another secret this becomes very funny very quickly.
The car crash element is because I'm pretty sure anyone who has every had a family Christmas can recognise some of the tensions/actions in the play and seeing your life experiences in glorious Technicolour is excruciating. Because this is so heightened not every experience is personal so there is some relief and some bits are just funny but I imagine that every audience member finds these different.
Other early reviewers have complained that they found the whole rules for living tedious and overblown but I liked this part of the play - for me it was the end that 'missed' slightly. I think I would have liked it to end just one scene earlier, but as it is a play about cognitive behavioural therapy I can see why it continues, it just would have remained a total comedy for me without it. However as I have continued to think about this play more than the other two that I saw this weekend it must be doing something right.
In some real theatre geekiness Rebecca and I were sitting near lots of people who were taking notes on this preview performance and in fact I was sitting next to the director, Marianne Elliot. They were all writing copious amounts so I don't know how much will change between the previews and opening night.
This was uncomfortable fun for me and while I don't think it will make my top 10 at the end of the year it was fascinating to see a new play, in a new space by a relatively new (and female) playwright.
If you are sat in the lower gallery at the front look out for flying eggs...