Sam Holcroft's Rules for Living is a theatrically playful black comedy that explores the coping strategies we adopt in life. It was first performed in the Dorfman auditorium at the National Theatre, London, on 13 March 2015.
The play's action is set in an open-plan kitchen/living room or kitchen-conservatory where Edith and her family are gathering for lunch on Christmas Day. Edith plans everything with military precision, but her plans are destined to be thrown into disarray. Her son Matthew arrives partnered by a nervously jocular actor, Carrie, but secretly nurses a passion for his sister-in-law, Sheena. And Sheena, a compulsive drinker, is unable to contain her anger at her cynical, underachieving husband, Adam, or her concern for their psychologically damaged daughter, Emma. After the short opening scene, each subsequent scene is introduced with a 'rule' (eg 'Matthew must sit to tell a lie', 'Edith must clean to keep calm'), which is displayed to the audience for the duration of the scene. The characters adhere to these rules, even as they accumulate alarmingly (each rule, once it appears, applies throughout the rest of the play). In the play's second act, the rules are modified by a conditional element, so that each rule is activated until a specific condition is met: 'Matthew must sit and eat to tell a lie… until he gets a compliment'. Eventually, as the family gathering descends into chaos, all the rules are obscured by a title card stating that ‘ANARCHY RULES’.
The National Theatre premiere was directed by Marianne Elliott and designed by Chloe Lamford, Miles Jupp as Matthew, Maggie Service as Carrie, Claudie Blakley as Sheena, Stephen Mangan as Adam, Deborah Findlay as Edith, John Rogan as Francis and Daisy Waterstone as Emma.