There’s a Red Stitch Over Yonder…Theatre Review: “Rules for Living” by Sam Holcroft, directed by Kim Farrant

Rules for Living

The new play at Red Stitch is very modern, original and quite long – a two act show with each act at about 90 minutes, and add a decent interval, so pack your lunch and an overnight bag. (yes yes, I’m kidding) Though the theatre is in the grounds of a St Kilda church at Chapel & Dandenong Rd,  and you can park your vehicle ten metres from the theatre, so…

That said, the play is easy to watch, with an ensemble cast (six and a half players) doing a sterling job of bringing the piece to life. “Rules for Living” is written by English playwrite Sam Holcroft, who has written a few theatre pieces to some acclaim, and it is no surprise, after seeing the play, to find that Sam is a woman, for the insights into the characters suggest a female hand.

The plot: We’ve seen this before but that’s okay. A post-nuclear family finds a reason to come together again. Not a death this time, but the mundanity of a xmas meal. It’s a fairly tight unit, two sons, mother & father. But the older of the kids, Adam (played by Mark Dickinson) is married to Sheena (Jessica Clarke) and they’ve got a mildly crook teenager (Ella Newton on my night, but I think shared with Lily McCarthy) who seems to have 21st Century disease. The younger bro is Matthew (played by Rory Kelly) who has dragged along his new squeeze, the daggy doofus Carrie (Jem Nicholas).

So let the play begin, and to mis-use Hamlet, “for the play’s the thing
Wherein we’ll catch the conscience of the King.” But the patriarch of this suburban joint, Francis (played by Ian Rooney) is in no state to have his conscience caught. And we begin to understand the dominance of Francis in this household, and where the ‘Rules’ for living came from. He dominated his children and enlisted his wife Edith (Caroline Lee) to uphold the law. Both his sons were in love with performing – Adam as a talented cricketer who starred at Lords, the very home of cricket, and Matthew who strutted before the theatre lights.  Yet the father drove them to careers with more reliable futures and incomes…but less passion.
This is where playwrite Sam throws in some psychology to inject a large dose of black humour into the bleak suburban tapestry. Using tenets of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which aims to correct negative behaviour patterns formed in childhood, the play commands the actors to  follow certain social rules when they play out their unconscious social response patterns. And the CBT is driving the play.

Director Kim Farrant, I am told in the Red Stitch program notes, is set to direct a feature film based on a Luke Davies’ (“Candy” etc) script. And here she has pulled the ensemble cast into a mostly relaxed and (insert useful word here, please, editor) performance. I’d imagine an ensemble cast is most difficult to write for and to direct, with many many sub-plots or meta-plots and schema being woven into and through the central issue which is—well I don’t know really. Perhaps social repression. Perhaps childhood self-preservation methods which later in life occlude real living, whatever that might be. So that’s the recipe for this xmas dinner and it has produced a most entertaining evening with the entire ensemble delivering, though I was particularly taken with the performances of the actors behind Sheena and Matthew, yet lest this opinion seem to take kudos from the rest of the cast & crew, I would hasten to add, shove that up your jumper, they were all good. “Rules For Living” is on now, see Red Stitch for further details, I would imagine…#

ROCK&ROLL: Roll along with the breeze – if you can’t find your knees

Like, Just A Short Note: R&R & the new Rolling Stones Record…”BLUE & LONESOME”

”Blue & Lonesome”– or somesuch, and no, not from the record label Nonesuch,  this disc is apparently on Polydor, though one is not so sure just what a record ‘label’ means anymore when much of the sales are delivered via Spotify, not quantifiable in the standard way, or on I-Tunes, which for many moons had the drop on downloadability and is now just one of many…or one of two or three, I don’t know, I can’t keep up….”Blue & Lonesome”, that’s what it’s called, the new Rolling Stones album, their 45th, their 13th, their ‘n’th album (Felicity, sweetie, babycakes, could you check what number this is, excluding best of’s but counting the live albums, if they had ’em? Ta. Cheers, owe ya bigtime.) and it takes one (well, this one, me) right back to their first album, “The Rolling Stones”, with a lot of blues, R&B, Chuck Berry & Bo Diddley covers, and also a Jagger-Richard song, ‘Tell Me’ and a couple of Nanker-Phelge credited tunes (the name for a song credited to the whole band–at that time Mick, Keith, Charlie, Bill & Brian).

Actually, where the new 95th album actually takes me, metaphorically, musically, not really a physical displacement, I’ve used an expired poetic licence, is to the next, the 2nd album (note: the first album was preceded by two singles and an EP – an EP is an Extended Play, which is  the same physical size as a single, but with three or four or five tracks on it)) and that’s called “12X5”. (An EP came out first titled ‘5X5’).

Where was I? Oh yes, reviewing the Rolling Stones. And yes their new album, “Blue & Lonesome” is good…but really. I’ll take the first two R&B albums by The Stones, and then I’ll take “Let it Bleed” and “Beggars’ Banquet”, albums next to each other in the procession of albums, at the turn of the 60s/70s, and at the end of Brian and the introduction of Mick Taylor. There is a simply great extended version of ‘Sympathy for the Devil with Mick Taylor helping on guitar. I always assumed (okay, not always, for the longest time then) that it was mid-labeled and meant ‘Symphony for the Devil’ but I have/have had no proof of this. Thus I’ll accept the title as has been presented.

this clip isn’t the one I was looking for but it’ll do…they do a pretty good job on all the clips. It reminds me of standing outside Madison Square Gardens in 1975 trying to find a scalper for the Rolling Stones concert and an odd fellow struck up a conversation. He was from the deep very deep south, but an innocent type. He said he’d been to RS concerts in every state of the Union and now he was trying to get into this one. Okay. He said The Stones knew him because he was at so many of their concerts and sometimes they slipped him a ticket and they called him The Midnight Rambler —or as he called it The Meridnarht Reeemblah. He would have been super-spooky if he hadn’t been dressed in blue velvet although he did rub his hand along the velvet in a crazy crazy fashion and come out with some awfully rude & dirty adjectives & nouns. Hold on. Allright, I might have lied a little bit about the touching stuff and swearing, but he did wear blue velvet, just like in the Bobby Vinton song.There were so many Bobby’s. Bobby Vee, Bobby Vinton, Bobby Rydell, Bobby Charlton (though he didn’t  sing very much) Bobby & Laurie and Bobby Darin…anyway Bobby’s up the keister, almost a plague of Bobby’s but I never heard a Bobby song I didn’t like and you can take that to the bank and deposit it. So the Midnight Rambler (or the Mudnaahht Reembluh) and I were chatting away as I watched girls going into the Gardens and of course boys were going in too but I didn’t pay much attention to them. Anyway I had Bobby (I think that was his name), my Midnight Blue friend who was telling me about Alabama and Twirling at Ole Miss (cheerleaders at Mississippi and He found us tickets but by then I couldn’t be stuffed going in…it was more fun watching others go in and I’d seen The RS back in Melbourne only two years before, at Kooyong, and so… And as a noted drug philosopher acquaintance I had, once said, ‘the one you don’t have is the one you miss out on’…which I thought extremely profound. One thing leads to another and that brings to mind Helen Garner’s novel “Monkey Grip”, set in Fitzroy and Carlton and Nora the heroine swimming at Fitzroy Pool and being struck by the sign for the Deep End, in Italian, Aqua Profunda. Or maybe it was in Latin for the only two Latin scholars who lived within 20 kilometres of the pool.

Anyway anyhow, the reason for the nostalgia, the time when the Rolling Stones were an excellent R&B covers band who had a very decent dress sense and Brian had a haircut to dye for, was that while the RS were in the studio getting their new new album sorted, they started (I am led to believe) dicking around with some old standards, which is the stuff that brought them together. The Chicago Bues, the Delta Blues, Robert Johnson (wasn’t he the first electric bluesman? –anyway a legend’s legend.) And The Stones had offered listeners a very reasonable white boy version of ‘Love in Vain’ about the two trains running…a Robert Johnson classic.

And Robert Johnson was the template, the guy who made the Faustian deal with the d-d-d-devil down at the Crossroads, who appeared on the scene and was okay, who went away for a bit, and who came back absolutely an all-singing, all-playing electric genius and everybody knew the evil one had purchased the guy’s soul and given him talent in return. And there is no “Return to Sender” with this arrangement. You gots to pay up. And so the Rolling Stones had returned to their roots with “Blue & Lonesome”, they didn’t need to write their own songs anymore to get those fat royalty cheques, they had heaps (well Mick & Keith did), they could go get authentic. So they played the songs of old, credited them, unlike some, and it sounded okay.
(to be continued),