It’s a play which certainly strikes a chord – occasionally uncomfortable – with the actors.
There is something remarkably revealing as the piece unfolds.
Award-winning director Simon Godwin directs a new production of Sam Holcroft’s darkly-funny Rules For Living at Brighton Theatre Royal from Tuesday-Saturday October 17-21.
Jolyon Coy, who plays Matthew, said: “You read it and you think ‘Well, I don’t know how I am going to play that!’ and then you start doing it and you realise it is actually you!”
Everyone creates their own rules for living.
But what happens when an extended family gathers for a traditional Christmas dinner, and each of them rigidly follows those rules?
As the drinks flow and the obligatory games intensify, family resentments rise and relationships are pulled apart with a bang.
“Sam has written a play which she has set on Christmas Day, not that it is a Christmas play. But it is just that Christmas Day is the day when everything unravels as it so often does. There are so many tensions and the stakes are so high...
“It is about this family coming together, Matthew (me) and Adam and their partners. Edith, the matriarch in the play, is wanting to make sure that everything is perfect for Christmas Day because the father has had a short stint in hospital and is coming home today.
“He is a very domineering figure in our lives. Everyone is trying to make everything perfect for him, which of course it can’t be – because as soon as you try to make everything perfect, you know it won’t be.
“But what is brilliant is that the rules are projected onto the stage, the rules that each character has, their coping strategies.
“Their ways of deflecting things and keeping calm are shown to the audience so that the audience are one step ahead.
“For instance, my character has to sit to lie.
“Everyone in the audience knows that when I am sitting down, I am lying, but the characters in the play don’t know that because I am sitting down I am lying.
“Edith, the matriarch, has to clean to keep calm, but these rules grow and grow and grow.
“At first Edith has to clean to keep calm, then she has to clean and self-medicate to keep calm, and then to keep calm she has to clean and self-medicate until she gets reassurance... and so it goes on until you get this great big blancmange of emotions.
“It is brilliant. By reading the play and performing it, you get to understand that there are so many things that we all do.
“We all have these rules. I hate to say it, but when I was younger, my dad (fellow actor Jonathan) used to say that lying came easier to me that breathing. It was said with love!
“But the thing with Matthew is that he has this desperate need to please, and I can understand that. I can understand the need to be running around trying to keep people happy in different ways. And starting rehearsals, I think we all realised that there were elements of our characters that are rather close to home!”
As for his father Jonathan, the two have yet to share a stage together.
“But unless we play father and son, I don’t think we could! I have stolen so much stuff off him as an actor that unless we were related in the play, people in the audience would think ‘Why is this character pretending to be a younger version of that one, exactly the same person?’ It would be too much of a risk! I think I would steer clear of it...
“But actually, one day, it would be rather nice to work together.”
Tickets for the show are on http://www.atgtickets.com/venues/theatre-royal-brighton/.