EVER wondered how people cope with life and all it throws at them? A new play by Sam Holcroft gives us a chance to find out.
Rules For Living, brilliantly directed by Marianne Elliott and now on at the National Theatre's Dorfman stage gives the audience a glimpse of the coping mechanisms adopted by what increasingly becomes clear is a dysfunctional family.
The come together for Christmas - a ritual which has to be adhered to and which comes with a set of rules that you just know will make things fall apart and ensure there are tears before bedtime.
These rules have been established by the head of the family, Edith (Deborah Findlay) who organises the event with military precision - nothing is left to chance.
Into the fray come her two sons - Adam (Stephen Mangan) who really wanted to play cricket professionally but because he "choked" in a game is now a second rate lawyer and Matthew (Miles Jupp) a high flying solicitor who really wanted to be on the stage.
With them come their partners - the neurotic Sheena (Claudie Blakley) who is likes a drink and Carrie, (Maggie Service) an actress who tells cringingly bad jokes.
Through the increasingly fraught situation in which they find themselves they subconsciously reach for their own coping mechanisms which are flashed up as rules on an overhead scoreboard situated at either end of the stage, and given points.
As the tensions within the group are ramped up the rules get more extreme and the comedy more excruciatingly awful.
By the time we get to the second half it is obvious that the cork keeping the pressure at bay is going to pop in spectacular fashion.
It does so with the appearance of Adam and Matthew's father Francis (John Rogan) who is confined to a wheelchair after suffering a post-op stroke. With a twinkle in his eye it becomes clear he's had a fruity life and is the cause of most if not all of the trouble.
In predictable style it descends into farce and chaos with the most fantastic food fight.
With a fabulously witty script, terrific acting, staging and direction, there is much to recommend.
Rules For Living is on at the Dorfman, National Theatre until July 8. Tickets from £15. Visit www.nationaltheatre.org.uk or call the box office on 020 7452 3000