Tag Archives: Sam Holcroft

“Rules For Living” at the National Theatre

Using, of all things, Cognitive Behaviourial Therapy as a very literal framework, Sam Holcroft’s new play for the National Theatre makes for a riotous evening. A family’s foibles are revealed to us in the form of their coping strategies, or ‘rules for living’, to use the therapists’ term, on a game show-style screen – all part of Chloe Lamford’s witty set. So we know, for example, that one character sits down when they lie and another stands up to tell a joke. Every move realises its comic potential.

Holcroft’s strategy is a neat gimmick that’s so effective that the actors have half the work done for them. Nonetheless the cast is superb. Stephen Mangan and Miles Jupp are brilliant as brothers who reveal their competitive streak and long-held grudges. Claudie Blakley and Maggie Service play their partners, full of repression and insecurities, revealed, respectively, by booze and bad jokes. Best of all is Deborah Findlay as the mother who ‘cleans to keep calm’ – a performance that magically transcends her deliberately recognisable character to become comedy gold.

Rules For Living might be a touch too long in places, and the final act adds disappointingly little, but Marianne Elliott’s direction is impeccable and the jokes have a high hit rate. And underneath the original twist is an old-fashioned dysfunctional family comedy – it’s even set at Christmas – that works superbly. The show gets better the sillier the events and the characters become. The culminating luxury food fight alone means you get your ticket money’s worth. It’s not a play if you hate to see food wasted, but the whole thing is a great deal of fun.

Until 8 July 2015

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photo by Simon Annand

“Double Bill” at The National Theatre

Double Bill, The National Theatre’s programme of four short plays by new writers, finds itself located in the theatre’s paint frame. An impressive working space, it’s a startling location for the pieces: edgy and exciting, this minor reworking of Lasdun’s building does the theatre credit.

First up are Edgar and Annabel by Sam Holcroft and The Swan by DC Moore. Both writers already have exciting reputations. It’s only fitting that the National gives them a platform, and they rise to the occasion.

Holcroft presents a dystopian future with swift precision, turning a political scenario into a domestic drama with such wit and originality it doesn’t deserve a plot spoiler. The eponymous couple have a dark secret that leads to hilarious dealings with a karaoke machine and explosives. In the title roles Trystan Gravelle and Kirsty Bushell deal with their characters’ double lives impeccably.

THE SWAN by Moore
“The Swan” performed in the National Theatre’s paint frame

DC Moore takes us to a more familiar place. The London Magazine readers won’t visit many pubs such as The Swan, certainly not on the occasion of a wake for a crowd like this one, but Moore’s family tragedy contains both compelling humour and drama.

With a star turn from Trevor Cooper as the patriarch Jim, who delivers every line with an obscenity, and a superb cameo from Claire-Louise Cordwell, damaging secrets are hidden to preserve a deeper truth – brought home to us with a little help from Spandau Ballet. Moore’s characters have to be seen to be believed and they are well worth watching.

Both Holcroft and Moore have an unfailing gift for dialogue; vital since despite superb design here, and hard work for the back stage crew whose home we are invading, these are modest productions. The conversations that occur in any relationship when it becomes mundane and the talk you might overhear in a less than salubrious South London local are wonderfully observed and then developed to another level with a mature concern for the truth.

Any institution with the longevity and largesse of the National Theatre will have a chequered history of new writing. Playwrights coming to work there are placed in the spotlight and automatically join a debate about the state of the arts, whether they want to or not. If these first two plays are anything to go by, new writing is in superb shape – Double Bill is an event that one hopes will become a fixture.

Until 10 September 2011

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photo by Johan Persson

Written 5 August 2011 for The London Magazine