For Services Rendered
Jermyn Street Theatre Autumn 2019
W. Somerset Maugham's play For Services Rendered is a bleak vision of the impact of the First World War on the well-off Ardsley family and their friends in the summer of 1932, the year of its first performance.
They drink afternoon tea, play tennis, visit neighbours and continue the business of the world. But the war and the later economic depression have damaged their lives.
The son Sydney (Richard Keightley), blinded in the conflict, is bitter about the slaughter of the war in which he believes people were 'sacrificed to . . . greed and vanity.'
Now he is dependent on others, in particular his sister Eva (Rachel Pickup), who yearns to have her own life and a husband. The man she loved was killed in the war and there are few opportunities among the men who returned from service.
That meant her sister Ethel (Leah Whitaker) married farmer Howard Bartlett (Burt Caesar), who seems permanently drunk and crudely propositions her younger sister Lois (Sally Cheng).
Even business seems to be floundering. The slump has destroyed the garage of the former officer Collie Stratton (Jotham Annam), a family friend who tries desperately to borrow money to avoid prosecution for debt.
The younger generation seem restless without hope. The older generation close their eyes to the suffering, like Leonard (Richard Derrington) the father of the family who claims 'none of us have anything very much to worry about…except perhaps what to spend our money on,' or like the mother Charlotte Ardsley (a very fine performance by Diane Fletcher) who feels they have had enough from life.
As the community slowly disintegrates, we see it is a matter of the deluded leading the disillusioned. In a surreal scene, a deeply disturbed character who has withdrawn into fantasy suddenly sings 'God Save the King' to her bewildered family.
If the message fits with the modern cynicism of war and those who send us to war, its language is often stilted, its characters too often obvious vehicles for its message and its pace a little too sedate.
Yet it bears witness to a national trauma ignored by many in a turbulent 1930's, where again countries across Europe were sliding towards war.
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Review - For Services Rendered - Jermyn Street Theatre 2019