How lovely to be so wrong. It sounded so stodgy. In fact, it was anything but.
So often with seemingly-lost or little-done plays, it’s rapidly clear why posterity has let them drop. Director Howard Davies’s superb revival of Somerset Maugham’s For Services Rendered almost instantly convinces that here’s an absolute classic very much worth our attention now.
In fact, the production itself surely ranks among the finest the Minerva has seen over the past 20 odd years, right up there with the likes of Taking Sides, Collaboration, Arturo Ui and the David Haig play Pressure last year.
Somerset Maugham, brilliantly served by Davies and by the entire cast, takes us into the heart of a fundamentally-decent family still struggling with the impact of the First World War a decade and a half after it ended. One sister has made a frustrated saint of herself after losing the man she loved; another buries her head in her own perception of duty in a marriage to an oaf; the son of the family, a blinded war hero, has become a detached and bitter observer.
Perhaps most interestingly of all, the third sister selfishly-ponders an escape, on the arm of Anthony Calf’s womaniser.
What makes the play quite so absorbing is the endless permutations as one character slips into conversation with another, the whole thing superbly orchestrated by Somerset Maugham. Director Davies and the cast do the rest.
Jo Herbert, Yolanda Kettle,Joseph Kloska and Justine Mitchell are terrific as the siblings; Stella Gonet is outstanding as the mother who battles to hold it altogether while fighting her own demons. The result is a post-war world where the men once lauded as heroes now struggle, a place where decency and vulnerability clash with cads, bounders and self-delusion. Tragedy is the result, delivered devastatingly after the careful exposition of the first half. Somerset Maugham beats Priestley to it in his depiction of responsibility denied. There is a definite foretaste here of An Inspector Calls.
One of the great pleasures of the theatre is a cast genuinely working together in a genuine ensemble piece. That’s what we get here. All the fun is in the main house at the moment. Go to the Minerva if you want the substance.
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