The Rules: Sex, Lies and Serial Killers, Edfringe Preview

First appearing two years ago, Sprocket Theatre's The Rules: Sex, Lies and Serial Killers received acclaim as an inventive black comedy that focused on the hithero unexplored territory of a self-help group 'for professionals'. Today, in the wake of TV programmes like Dexter, Hannibal and a plethora of other anti-heroes, The Rules is more relevant than ever. After its two-year gestation period, The Rules’ recasting and script tweaking has helped transform this nascent idea into a deliciously dark and fiendishly clever play.

Mel, Jay and Steven are highly prolific killers within their respective ‘disciplines’, and meet up on a semi-regular basis as friends – well as close to being ‘friends’ as lone psychopathic killers can be! By comparing notes and sharing their experiences, they in a roundabout way keep themselves 'sane' and ensure they don't get caught. For their communal safety, the group have a series of 'rules', designed to keep their anonymity and screen their 'normal', private lives from each other. However on one particular evening, Steven – who is usually the biggest advocate of 'The Rules' – sets a chain of events in motion by bringing to the meeting his new girlfriend Teresa. Not only is this emotional development in Steven 'alarming' for the rest of the maladjusted group, Teresa knows all about them...

You may be forgiven for thinking that a play about serial killers won't be everyone's cup of tea. However, I can say, hand on heart, that this extremely funny play has great character development and liable to surprise people of all tastes.

Written by Lila Whelan, who also plays Mel, everything within the world of The Rules makes sense, and every scene is underpinned by an emotional response, rather than a plot device. The backstories for each of the characters are well-conceived, and if you’ve ever watched Pulp Fiction, you’d know that what makes the hitmen Jules and Vincent such great characters isn’t their ‘vocation’, but that they can compartmentalise their ‘work’ and talk about everyday stuff like ‘normal’ people. The Rules in the best possible way emulates this dichotomy. The theme of ‘I’m different from society. Will I be discovered?’ runs throughout The Rules and works on so many levels.

The actors themselves were perfectly cast, all so good in their respective roles. Playing the seemingly effervescent Teresa, Catherine Nix-Collins captures the duality of the girl next door, her smiles and understanding nature proof that if something is too good to be true, it is because it is. Playing her boyfriend Steven, Neil Chinneck totally inhabits the role of the officious, conscience-driven Steven. Beneath his controlled demeanour we sense his potential to ‘lose it’ is only a heartbeat away. Ben Higgins’ caddish Jay is an unapologetic rogue, unencumbered by morality or empathy. And last but certainly not least, Whelan’s Mel. Beneath her cool exterior is someone who knows what she likes, but keeps her passions under wraps – at least to the casual observer. The only thing deadlier than her prowess with a blade is her tongue...

As artistic director of Sprocket Theatre, as well as being the writer/producer of The Rules and one of its stars, it’s clear that the project means a lot to Whelan and a labour of love. The Rules is a one-of-a-kind production, a guilty pleasure to savour and must-see at the Edinburgh Festival. I’ll certainly keep Sprocket Theatre on my radar in the future.

© Michael Davis 2015

The Rules: Sex, Lies and Serial Killers will play at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival at the Space on the Mile (Venue 39) on August 7-8, 10-15, 17-22, 24-29.

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