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The Rules: Sex, Lies & Serial Killers
Theatre 503
21st July 2015

★★★☆☆

Publicity image for The Rules: Sex, Lies & Serial Killers

Photography provided by Sprocket Theatre

These days, there's a support group for everything. Eat too much? Drink too much? Murder too much? Whatever your issues, there's a safe place for you to talk about them and get help. Wait... murder? In Lila Whelan's The Rules, self-confessed killers Mel (Whelan), Jay (Ben Higgins) and Steven (Neil Chinneck) find their latest clandestine meeting takes a turn for the weird when Steven's girlfriend Teresa (Catherine Nix-Collins) turns up, determined to help them stay on the straight and narrow. However, Mel and Jay have no intention of giving up their dark hobby and this is one party Teresa may well regret gatecrashing.

It's been two years since I saw an early work-in-progress version of The Rules, and Sprocket Theatre have clearly worked on the show a lot since then, acquiring a set, and injecting new life into the production with a change of cast. Playwright Whelan retains the role of Mel, a cold, controlled working mother, who suppresses all emotion and calmly butchers her victims. It's a fairly similar portrayal to last time, but under Jez Pike's direction, the other three characters change. Higgins is a a far slimier Jay; a sociopath who takes pleasure in the opportunistic pursuit of pretty young women. Chinneck's Steven is a bumbling, easily-flustered estate agent, clinging to his precious rules, and not exactly the most obvious assassin.

Whilst previously Teresa was sweet and innocent, here she's far more overblown, like an enthusiastic children's TV presenter accidentally flouncing over from CBeebies into Silent Witness and not quite understanding the consequences of that misstep. Wearing a cheerful summer dress adorned with red poppies and a gaudy holographic silver bag with matching silver sandals, she's visibly the outsider in this group of professionals. Teresa's attachment to her "Stevie" is deliberately sickening rather than endearing and she fawns over him with such gusto that we consider bumping her off ourselves. Nix-Collins is meant to make us laugh and irritate us slightly at the same time, and she follows Pike's direction faithfully, driving much of the humour.

The bright, childlike colours of Suneeda Maruthiyil's set contrast against the dark desires of the murdering self-help group and emphasise their lack of emotional maturity. Every time Jay gets intimate with a woman, he kills her. The closest he's come to a proper relationship is christening his gun Priscilla and talking about her with rather more affection than a weapon should inspire. Mel can't bring herself to discuss her feelings. On a day-to-day basis, she's almost robotic, refusing to let her passions carry her away. Steven and Teresa are like a pair of naive school kids rather than a grown up couple, further infantilising each other in their interactions. They may be old enough to kill, but none of them have ever really grown up, with that realisation provoking a certain amount of sympathy.

Parts of the story do feel overtly signposted and there is a bit of lagging in the final third but having seen the play before, perhaps I have an unfair advantage there. The Rules has a thoroughly surreal plot, making for an intriguing mystery - as well as a black comedy and sort of rom com. It's many things all crammed together at once. Maybe that just shouldn't work, but as Sprocket point out, the rules are meant to be broken.

The Rules: Sex, Lies & Serial Killers ran from 20th to 21st July at Theatre 503. It runs from 7th to 29th August 2015 at theSpace on the Mile, as part of the Edinburgh Fringe. (No show on Sundays.)

Nearest tube station: Clapham Junction (Overground)



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