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The Rules, Old Red Lion Theatre

Lila Whelan
Directed by Lila Whelan

★★★★

Pros: Dark, witty and with a strong cast, The Rules is a cross between a psychological thriller and an Elizabethan tragedy, with a couple of gags thrown in.

Cons: Some of the delivery could be tightened and the lighting might benefit from some more subtlety, but these are minor criticisms in a very solid production.

Our verdict: For fans of American Psycho, The Rules is a must-see. For everyone else, it is highly recommended. It mixes humour, drama and hysteria to create a writhing and blackly funny plot and is certainly worthy of the opportunity of a full-length production.

This is the first play about psychopaths that I have seen. To make it more remarkable, it’s about three of
Courtesy of Sprocket Theatre
them. I’ve never given much thought to how such people relax or interact with each other, but having seen Sprocket Theatre’s The Rules, I feel like something of an expert. It turns out that they meet up in houses while the occupants are on holiday and don’t discuss their kills. They live by strict rules – anonymity being key to their protection. It’s not long, however, until we realise that each of this trio has broken at least one of these sacred rules, with potentially disastrous consequences.

The murderers are unlikely comrades: Steven (Matthew Darcy) is a nervy, geeky but decent chap, Mel (Ruth McMeel) is neurotic and volatile and Jay (Cameron Harle) is a suave, charming narcissist – somewhere between Patrick Bateman and Vincent from Collateral. Despite this seemingly dysfunctional concoction, the three have enjoyed five years of regular meetings and (insofar as it is possible for homicidal maniacs), friendship. That is, until Steven brings his girlfriend.

Teresa (Keira Duffy), clad in white and delightfully innocent, has been told by Steven that these meetings are a kind of Assassins Anonymous for serial killers who fancy a bit of cold turkey. As she sits, earnestly listening to the three ‘confess’, it becomes apparent that Steven hasn’t been entirely straight with any of them. Nor, for that matter, have Jay and Mel. As the play unfolds, each of the characters (including the anxious but surprisingly calculating Teresa), reveals their dark secret (aside from the obvious, of course). This play really hinges on the characters’ inability to keep secrets. A valuable lesson to be learnt there.

Black comedy is a tricky genre to get right. Too light and it becomes crass, too serious and it risks being a little sick. Thankfully, Lila Whelan strikes the balance well. The script is sharply-written and has enough subtlety to raise sardonic laughter as well as genuine chuckles. The simplicity of the concept means that it has to be so.

A playwright, of course, is nothing without a cast, and Whelan has assembled a very strong one for The Rules. With no weak links and very good chemistry, the protagonists do what is so important in black comedy – they make it all seem so normal. After all, what could be more natural than meeting up with a couple of friends, having a couple of beers and chewing the fat? Despite the fact that Harle’s irresistibly smarmy and arrogant attitude is entirely at odds with Darcy’s jitters and McMeel’s anger, they are not stereotypes or caricatures. To all intents and purposes, they are all like people we know (rather a disturbing thought).

The Rules played at The Old Red Lion for one night only and the audience was implored to support it so that it might be produced as a full-length piece. Judging by the cheers and shrieks as the cast took their bows, I don’t think support will be in short supply. I suggest that a keen eye is kept on this play, the writer and the cast and I, for one, look forward to seeing them all again.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

The Rules was on for one night only at The Old Red Lion Theatre on 3rd June 2013.

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Founded in 2011, Everything Theatre started life as a pokey blog run by two theatre enthusiasts and – thanks to the Entry Pass Scheme for 16-25 year olds – regular National Theatre goers. Today, we are run by part-time volunteers from a wide array of backgrounds. Among our various contributors are people who work in theatre, but also people who work in law, medicine, events, marketing and even psychiatry! We are all united by our love for the London theatre scene.