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For Services Rendered

3 November 2018

Carrying On and Trying to Keep CalmWW1 IWM logo

For Services Rendered

by W. Somerset Maugham

The Questors at The Judi Dench Playhouse, Ealing, until 10th November

Review by Viola Selby

‘Keep Calm and Carry On’; those famous words were produced by the British government in 1939 in preparation for World War II, only a few years after World War One had shaken the country and caused irreversible changes to the foundations of society. Even after such a massive event, many people went back to their daily lives, trying to salvage some form of normality that could never be the same again. Francis Lloyd’s realistically raw and immersive adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s For Services Rendered offers a chance for the audience to travel back in time and peep into one family’s struggles with life after the war.

Services 7305

At the start of the play, the audience members were lulled into a sense of security that this would be a light British afternoon-tea type of story. This was done by Fiona McKeon’s stunning and authentic 1920s set design and warm, inviting lighting designed by the talented Chris Newall. How wrong we all were. Through the exceptional acting of the whole cast, each character’s inner torment comes to light, building up a sense of stifled madness ready to explode. The set, that once made the audience feel relaxed, now acts as part of the claustrophobic vibe of the play, as all events happen within this one room.

Two of the most dramatic events occur due to Eva and the ill-fated Collie Stratton, brilliantly played by Claire McCarthy and Robert Seatter, whose entwining stories result in Eva going mad over Collie’s suicide. Both McCarthy and Seatter excellently use tone and facial expressions to accentuate their characters’ fall into madness and despair in a way that wrenches the heart.

Services 7289Added on to this, and something that assists in Eva’s fall into madness, is that her brother, Sydney, was gravely injured in the war and has become blind. Blindness can often be overacted in a way that is either comical or insensitive, both of which greatly affect the realism of a play and the audience’s ability to connect with the character.

However, Matthew Benson’s amazing talent effortlessly leaves the audience questioning whether the actor himself is actually blind or not. In addition to this, Eva’s sister, Ethel (Caroline Ash), is married to a drunk whom she soon realises is attempting to seduce her younger sister Lois. This sadly and in a strange way reflects many people’s experience in today’s society and is expertly acted by Claire Wilkinson in a mature and sensitive manner. At the same time, Lois (Rosie Louden), has to fight off the sexual attention of not only her father’s friend Wilfred (Robert Gordon Clark) but also her sister’s husband Howard (John Barron). Both Clark and Barron were absolutely superlative at playing such selfish and slimy characters; whilst Louden’s portrayal highlights a deep understanding of her character’s struggle in a way that gives her character an outstanding level of depth and development. Finally, if the audience thought that the story would somehow end on a happy note, they were sorely mistaken for it is at the end that Mrs Ardsley is told she has months to live, leaving her husband Leonard to face the new world and all of his family’s struggles without her. This may not have been so emotional had Anne Neville and Robin Ingram not worked so well as a married couple facing the new world, post war.

However, this play is not all doom and gloom, as part of the emotional rollercoaster Lloyd has also provided the audience with some comic relief in the form of Gwen Cedar – a well-to-do lady whose outfits (designed by the creative genii Raymond Childe and Nichola Thomas) shine just as much as her personality. Sarah Morrison’s depiction ensures Gwen is both funny but also realistic and relatable, so that audience members can identify with the character as someone they probably know in real life. In addition to this, Anthony Curran has been cleverly cast as Dr Prentice, providing some serious comedy with his straight to the point approach, in a stereotypically ‘doctor’ like way: overall adding to the mad brilliance of this play. Just as in the famous lines of Binyon’s Ode of Remembrance, ‘We will remember them’, I will definitely remember this play!

Viola Selby
November 2018

Photography by Jane Arnold-Forster

More details of the production are on The Questors website.

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From → Drama, Reviews

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