Reviews Chichester Published 9 August 2015

For Services Rendered

Minerva Theatre ⋄ 31st July - 5th September 2015

The legacy of war.

Neil Dowden
Credit: Richard Hubert Smith

Credit: Richard Hubert Smith

The appalling suffering endured by soldiers in WWI has been powerfully depicted many times in drama. But W. Somerset Maugham’s ironically titled 1932 play For Services Rendered focuses on the war’s long-term pernicious impact on the domestic front. Fourteen years after the armistice, a lingering shadow darkens the lives of a country solicitor’s family – who it is implied are representative of thousands of others – in a land that is far from being fit for heroes.

The main focus is on the three Ardsley sisters. The eldest Eva lost her fiancé in the war and spends most of her time looking after her blinded veteran brother Sydney, while unrequitedly loving an ex-destroyer captain turned small businessman who is on the verge of bankruptcy after failing to adjust to civilian life. Ethel has married ‘beneath’ her to a drunken local tenant farmer, overloaded with work and children. And 25-year-old Lois, frustrated at the lack of eligible young men around, is tempted by an affair with a wealthy, middle-aged married man. Mr Ardsley is disappointed that his son can’t follow into the family business, while his wife has stress-related health problems.

The play starts off like a middle-class drawing-room comedy, with people entering through French windows for tea after playing tennis, but Maugham’s quietly devastating drama of blighted lives gradually reveals a potent bitter anger conveying post-war disillusion. There is a distinctly Chekhovian feel to the frustrated hopes of the three sisters, while the play’s understated expression of private turmoil may well have influenced Rattigan. The plot creaks here and there, and sometimes the dialogue is a bit stilted, but Maugham’s sensitive portrayal of particularly female sensibility and sexuality – unusual for its time – is impressive, as is his exposure of the hypocrisy of warmongers who demand pointless sacrifice for the country.

Once again Howard Davies directs a large cast with assurance to deliver nuanced ensemble performances, while William Dudley’s striking design features the comfortable conservatory of a country house with a backdrop of pretty pastoral haystacks surrounded by barbed wire in a Paul Nash-like reference to the killing fields of the Western Front.

Justine Mitchell’s painfully moving performance as the emotionally fragile Eva lies at the heart of the play, while Yolanda Kettle’s trapped, sensual Lois and Jo Herbert’s wearily dowdy Ethel also impress. There is good support from Nick Fletcher as the former career naval officer out of his depth in peacetime, Anthony Calf as a smug playboy who profited in the post-war slump and Sam Callis as a boorish, small-time farmer who reflects on his soldiering years with nostalgia for the status his uniform gave him. Simon Chandler’s Mr Ardsley lives in a deluded world of conventional platitudes while Stella Gonet’s Mrs Ardsley suffers stoically. And Joseph Kloska’s embittered, sardonic Sydney resembles a sightless prophet when he predicts ‘they’ll muddle us all into another war’, as he rails ‘it’s all bunk what they’re saying to you, about honour and patriotism and glory, bunk, bunk’.

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Neil Dowden

Neil's day job is working as a freelance editor for book publishers such as HarperCollins, Penguin, Faber and British Film Institute Publishing, but as a night person he prefers reviewing for Exeunt. He has also written features on the theatre and reviewed films, concerts, albums, opera, dance, exhibitions, books and restaurants for various newspapers and magazines, including The Stage and What's On in London, as well as contributing to a couple of books on 20th-century drama and writing a short tourist guide to London for Visit Britain. He insists he is not a playwright manqué but was born to be a critic and just likes sticking a knife into luvvies. In fact, as a boy he wanted to become a professional footballer, but claims there were no talent scouts where he then lived on the South Wales coast, and so has had to settle for playing Sunday league for a dodgy south London team. Apart from the arts and sport, his other main interest is travel, and he is never happier than when up a mountain, though Everest Base Camp is the highest he has been so far. He believes he has not yet reached his peak.

For Services Rendered Show Info


Directed by Howard Davies

Written by W. Somerset Maugham

Cast includes Justine Mitchell, Yolanda Kettle, Jo Herbert, Nick Fletcher, Anthony Calf, Sam Callis, Simon Chandler, Stella Gonet, Joseph Kloska

Link http://www.cft.org.uk/home

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