Five plays and one old fashioned American musical in London over four nights. Quite a schedule to have, thanks to my fellow junkie, Antonio. But we did it. And savored it. Every sweet second.
The first night was the hardest. Jet lagged and overtired from Tel Aviv and Athens, we ventured to the National Theatre, an organization I’d always wanted to go to, and even with my numerous previous attempts, had yet to see one production there. That first night was going to change that and it had better be good, cause anything else would put me to sleep. Literally.
Rules For Living was the play. Sam Holcroft’s newest being performed in the smallish studio at the National, the Dorfman Theatre. It’s last night before closing on our first night in London. A blind choice made solely because we wanted to go to the National. And what a great choice it turned out to be.
Rules for Living, directed magnificently and meticulously by Marianne Elliot, is a lively funny smart farce about a dysfunctional family coming together at the neurotic mother’s (a spectacular Deborah Findlay) home for Christmas lunch. This matriarch has the unique ability to turn a simple observation about carrots or dishwasher loading into a biting commentary of that persons ability in life. And at this Christmas lunch, everything must go perfectly. The too good to be true lawyer son (a superb Miles Jupp), his insecure attention-seeking dirty mouthed comedian of an actress girlfriend (the hilarious Maggie Service), the wilder devilish second son (my favorite from the Norman Conquest, Stephen Mangan), his nervous trying-too-hard wife (the delicious Claudie Blakley who I remember loving from Gosford Park and Pride and Prejudice) , and their emotionally exhausted daughter (the underused but pivotal Daisy Waterstone) are all in attendance for the return of their sick father from the hospital. This is the set up in a nutshell, but the rules of their living come out for us all to see and play witness to. We see their choices and ways of coping laid out before us in a straightforward and hilarious structure. To say more would ruin the pleasure. All I will say, is my over exhausted body and brain became enlivened and I could barely stay seated. This is what good theatre should be.
These actors, all pros that we recognize from those big and small wonderful roles in wonderful British film and theatre, were simply astounding and I wouldn’t change a thing.
[We’ll sort of. I have one thought about the ending. Hard to say without spoiling some of the charms of this piece, but i think the order at the end world be better shifted around. The blowzy actress before the boyfriend lawyer would have been more powerful. In my mind. But such a small thing within such a grand thing.]
I only hope to see this production transfer over here to NYC. I can see it coming into a space like Circle on the Square, and claiming that space just like the Norman Conquest conquered that space many years ago. (But only after Fun Home has a healthy long run.) I would welcome it with open arms.