Gathering a dysfunctional family together around the dinner table, at which grudges inevitably erupt, is a time-honoured theatrical convention. Make it Christmas lunch and you have a fair idea of the kind of drama to expect.

In her play Rules for Living, which premiered at the National Theatre in London in 2015, UK playwright Sam Holcroft takes the Christmas lunch trope and delivers a farce – but with a twist. Right up front, she tells the audience about the behavioural tics or coping mechanisms of each of the characters by displaying the information on panels across the top of the stage. So, as the play unfolds, we know what is going on beneath the surface and when the characters are telling the truth.

It’s Christmas at the home of Edith (Sonia Todd) and Francis (Bruce Spence). The latter is currently being treated in hospital for some kind of ailment, about which Edith is very vague, but he will be returned home at any minute.

Keegan Joyce and Nikita Waldron. Photograph © Daniel Boud

Their grown-up sons Matthew (Keegan Joyce) and Adam (Hazem Shammas) have...

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