It’s a line used in theatre in the early decades of the 20th century to rid the stage of unwanted characters, leaving the main protagonists to disclose secrets that will affect the trajectory of the play.
In For Services Rendered, W Somerset Maugham’s 1932 play that examines the brutality of war and the families forever destroyed by its carnage, the line also represents a jab at the monied upper classes, with characters garbed in white flannels and brandishing tennis rackets, looking down upon the lower classes who must toil for a living.
Granted it’s a large cast, but its 12 characters make entrances and exits so riddled with references to tennis that its dramatic import is all but lost under this farcical weight.
The drama begins in the rose-walled garden of an English country home where we are introduced to the Ardsley family and friends: Sydney Ardsley (Richard Keightley), a survivor of the First World War and blinded in combat; his older sister, Eva (Rachel Pickup), in mourning for her sweetheart killed in battle; and saucy younger sister Lois (Sally Cheng), who longs to escape the trappings of mundane country living.
Enter old family friends, the insufferable snob Gwen Cedar (Viss Elliott Safavi) and her repugnant ageing lothario husband, Wilfred (Michael Lumsden), and a dramatic scaffolding is constructed.
Maugham is quite astute in understanding the plight of his female characters. A paucity of love and desire marks the life of each of the Ardsley sisters, but the play casts a cynical eye upon marriage as a solution to loneliness.
A middle Ardsley sister, Ethel (Leah Whitaker), marries a poor farmer with a drink problem and lecherous intentions towards the young Lois, who is also having to fend off the attentions of Wilfred, the husband of the shrewish Gwen. The ageing male desire to commit adultery is accurately portrayed more as a Dracula-like urge to possess young flesh, than it is with connecting with a young woman as an actual person. The problem is that none of the interactions between Lois and her slathering suitors appear credible, but more like a reading of a memorised text rather than a dramatic interaction.
Maugham also uses the play as a platform to decry the futility of war and the unsympathetic treatment of war heroes during peacetime. Collie Stratton (Jotham Annan), who served as a Royal Navy Commander, commits suicide when his business fails and he is unable to pay his debts.
Sydney, the Ardsley son blinded in active service, is a burden to his family. His eldest sister, Eva, resents being the designated carer who must sacrifice her life to him, while his father, Leonard (Richard Derrington) reproaches Sydney because he can no longer rely on him to inherit the family business.
Ultimately, the weight of grief and unhappiness that envelops the Ardsley family is finally lodged in the body of the matriarch, Charlotte Ardsley (the wonderful Diane Fletcher), who becomes the only character to connect with the plight of those around her in a plausible way.
For Services Rendered is a well-written drama which tackles the politics of war and human relations. Although celebrated as one of Maugham’s finest for decades, Artistic Director Tom Littler’s revival places its weight on the side of pastiche, rather than on its brutal authenticity.
For fans of Maugham who look forward to revisiting the classical works of this literary master.
Review by Loretta Monaco
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.
Somerset Maugham’s sharply observed and passionate play is a Chekhovian masterpiece of desire, frustration and hope.
The Memories Season
FOR SERVICES RENDERED
By Somerset Maugham
Directed by Tom Littler
Set design by Louie Whitemore
Costume design by Emily Stuart
Lighting design by Ali Hunter
Sound design by Yvonne Gilbert
Jotham Annan – Collie Stratton
Burt Caesar – Howard Bartlett
Sally Cheng – Lois Ardsley
Richard Derrington – Leonard Ardsley
Jim Findley – Dr. Prentice
Diane Fletcher – Charlotte Ardsley
Richard Keightley – Sydney Ardsley
Aoife Kennan – Gertrude
Michael Lumsden – Wilfred Cedar
Rachel Pickup – Eva Ardsley
Viss Elliott Safavi – Gwen Cedar
Leah Whitaker – Ethel Bartlett
For Services Rendered
Wed, 4th September – Sat, 5th October 2019