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Stuart King

Review: FOR SERVICES RENDERED at Jermyn Street Theatre

Rachel Pickup and Jotham Annan in For Services Rendered at Jermyn Street Theatre. Photo by Robert Workman William Somerset Maugham’s 1932 play FOR SERVICES RENDERED, centres on the Ardsley family - which has, like so many, been negatively impacted by the horrors of the First World War and continues to suffer, as veterans fail to adjust to their civilian lives.

A blinded young serviceman, various love intrigues, suicide in the face of bankruptcy and the self-sacrifice of enduring illness (so as not to distress other family members) combine to map-out a bleak future for the extended group.

The play is a convoluted piece, which calls on a dozen characters to deliver its message convincingly. Jermyn Street however, is a small theatre with a tiny stage. Logistically, this makes for a visually cluttered production, although the simple set with climbing-rose adorned walls, managed to hint at a calm, English, country idyll.

As a young man, I was introduced to Maugham’s canon by my English master. It would be a massive understatement to describe this as an epiphany moment, and over the next few years, I devoured every work I could lay my hands on. I was utterly transfixed by the author’s innate capacity to generate an entire personality in the space of a single sentence. It is possible to know whether one would like or loathe a character by reading 10 words of Maugham’s introduction of them, such was the skill of his descriptive powers and the succinct beauty of his prose. I quickly became a life-long acolyte, advocate and tenacious defender of his brilliance.

Acceptance of the fact that he is no longer in fashion and largely forgotten, has been difficult, so when someone announces a production based on his work, I am instantly excited by the prospect, and both eager and nervous to see the result.

Unfortunately, this production lacks in virtually every department: continuity in casting, comprehension of the text, period and style of acting, subtlety and nuance of character (which were WSM’s bread and butter). In places, the performers have blatantly resorted to playing pastiche and have clearly received little or no guidance in differentiating the two. The jolly hockey sticks, I say old chap, let’s have tea, anyone for tennis?, stiff upper lip façade, only works as period reality, when the actor imbues genuine substance to the character in delivering the lines. Few in the company seemed to have mastered their personas at last evening’s Press Night and consequently the entire piece sounded at best like a fringe parody and at worst, a twee school production.

I fear the great man himself would have remained largely unmoved and unimpressed by the efforts on show. I was certainly underwhelmed and disappointed.