Rules for Living

Our trip to London was great yesterday, despite the persistent weather and the fact that we had forgotten about the Trooping of the Colour and assumed all the roads were shut  because someone had been murdered…messily…and in several different locations.

It’s bein’ so cheerful ‘as keeps us goin’

The play: ‘Rules for Living’ at The National was tremendous. It was very Ayckbournesque, which I enjoyed enormously, although there were times when it was just so socially awkward I actually found myself putting my hand over my eyes and wincing. The cast were uniformly strong and it was one of those times when ensemble playing totally brought out the best of the play because the timing had to be perfect for everything to work, and it was.

Stephen Mangan is always good value on stage, and Miles Jupp who those of you with children of a certain age may recognise as Archie the mad inventor from Balamory, was very good too. Much better than when he was Archie from Balamory, which was a relief to us all. The lack of pink and kilts were two bonuses to start with.

The play was about a dysfunctional family whose traditional Christmas lunch, which is usually terrible, is made even more terrible by a series of social car crash events that play out with alarming inevitability during the course of the play. The joy for the audience are the enormous tennis style score boards that sit either end of the stage (the play was in the round), and which tell the audience which ‘rules for living’ each of the play’s protagonists operates by. For instance, Miles Jupp can only tell a lie when he is sitting down. The mother of the family has to clean when she is stressed.  Stephen Mangan’s wife can only contradict someone just after she has taken a drink, etc. This means that you as the audience are clued up for the awfulness to come in the best possible way. It was inspired.

Every time the rules changed, or someone scored a point, or a new player was introduced, the score board would light up and make a noise rather like the one on the Family Fortunes board should you have ever had the misfortune to watch that show.  The lady sitting next to me never did get used to the klaxon noise, and every time it came on she jumped, quite literally out of her seat.  The Dorfmann theatre as it is now known (formerly The Cottesloe) always has what looks like temporary seating, which can be assembled quickly and screwed into place, because the whole theatre can be rearranged at will based on the set designer’s whims. It means you never quite know what you’re walking into at The Dorfmann, which is one of the joys of it. It also means that the seating is rather fragile.  As it was, every time the lady jumped, we all jumped in reciprocal sympathy as our seats moved in time with her rhythmic pinging. It was quite an experience, and certainly added a new dimension to play going for me.

Terrible traffic on the way in meant that Wagamama’s on the South Bank was an absolute necessity for lunch before the play. It is always an absolute miracle to me how quickly they can seat you, take your order and deliver piping hot, tasty food to you. I think we had food in front of us in less than five minutes. Every theatre should have a Wagamama’s nearby as a matter of policy. That would be one of my rules for living, were I ever to be given dictatorship of the world.

After the play we had time to squeeze in coffee and cake from the National’s Espresso bar before heading home after a thoroughly nice day. After my total mess up with tickets on Thursday it was a relief that everything went so smoothly. It may not be a coincidence that I had absolutely nothing to do with the organisation of yesterday’s jolly.

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