Review: For Services Rendered
Image courtesy Jermyn Street Theatre
(actor - character)
Diane Fletcher - Charlotte Ardsley
Rachel Pickup - Eva
Richard Derrington - Leonard Ardsley
Michael Lumsden - Wilfred Cedar
Richard Keightley - Sydney
Sally Cheng - Lois
Leah Whitaker - Ethel Bartlett
Burt Caesar - Howard Bartlett
Jotham Annan - Collie Stratton
Viss Elliott Safavi - Gwen
Jim Findley - Dr Prentice
Aoife Kennan - Gertrude
Part of The Memories Season.
A warm September afternoon in an idyllic English village.
Tea is served on the terrace.
Sounds of a tennis party float across the lawn.
But this England has no place for the heroes of the First World War.
No jobs to sustain them, no mantelpieces for their medals, and no money for their debts.
Against the odds, three sisters must carve new paths in an uncertain world.
This is the first major London revival of Somerset Maugham's masterpiece since it was seen at the Old Vic in 1993, and the National Theatre in 1979.
Louie Whitemore's set design here reaches right around the audience encompassing us all as though we are members of the village community where this play is set.
The auditorium walls have been painted and even the floor has been given the same pastel sky-blue treatment.
Some of the audience even sit on benches at either side of the stage for this family-based drama from the pen of W. Somerset Maugham.
But it's not completely evident why we are engulfed by the design, nor why some of the wallpaper still bears some inelegant wrinkles that seem much out of place both in terms of context and the finesse we've come to admire and expect at this address.
First performed in 1932, For Services Rendered is set in the Ardsley family home in Kent - 'the Garden of England' - which is described with grass surrounding the acting area, flowers climbing up the walls and apples in ample evidence.
Though the sky-blue paintwork points to sunny days, things are not going swimmingly in this middle-class and seemingly well-off household.
The poignant and lasting effects of the First World War are still to be found in abundance not only among individual members of the family, but also within their immediate circle of friends.
Son Sydney was blinded in the conflict and now whiles away his time playing chess and knitting, rather than helping with the family legal business as his father had hoped.
His sister Eva, has been appointed to act as Sydney's nurse and attendant, yet longs for romance and a home of her own.
And Lois, the youngest member of the Ardsleys, similarly seeks a life elsewhere, eventually succumbing to the advances (and money) of a much older man.
(From left) Richard Derrington (Leonard), Diane Fletcher (Charlotte) and Jim Findley (Dr. Charlie Prentice) - photo by Robert Workman
Matriarch Charlotte is faced with a terminal illness and family friend Collie - an ex Commander in the Royal Navy - finds his business on the brink of collapse.
Director Tom Littler has a formidable task in orchestrating a substantial cast and it shows at important moments when the intensity of the drama felt somewhat forced, rather than naturally compelling, powerful and moving.
Evocative songs introduce each half, but the rest of the soundscape seemed at times muddy with some strange, irritating scratching noises finding their way through the speakers at one point.
Though the title certainly alludes to the plight of those who fought in the Great War, the plot introduces another significant element with the economic situation causing grief for other members of the community, like Ethel's farmer husband Howard.
For this play is set in the period just after the Great Crash of 1929 and in the midst of the Great Depression - the most widespread and ruinous depression of the twentieth century.
On its first outing, For Services Rendered failed to receive much warmth from either audiences or critics.
Perhaps the initial reception back in 1932 can be accounted for by its attitude to the aftermath of the Great War.
But the play also seems to be questioning the lifestyle of the middle class, because the family still cling to their values and pastimes - like playing tennis in their own court, being dependent on the services of an overworked maid and taking afternoon tea - when clearly the world around them has changed beyond measure in comparison with pre-war society.
Somerset Maugham might be excused for cramming in so much gloom and suffering into one family, but it does feel overdone at times, even if it offers some thought-provoking issues.
On a final note ... For Services Rendered is the opening play in Jermyn Street's Memories Season which celebrates the venue's 25th birthday - many happy returns.
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ActDrop listing for Jermyn Street Theatre
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