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Berkshire Stringers

Review: For Services Rendered

By Thelma Howarth
Desperate wives, bitter heroes and restless youth all combine to make a heady cocktail as Somerset Maugham brilliantly describes the desire and desperation which lie at the heart of a post-war, middle-class community.

Until 14.04.07 | Watermill Theatre | Bagnor | Newbury | £10.50-£20 | Box office: 01635 46044

Abigail McKern
Abigail McKern

For Services Rendered, by W Somerset Maugham, is powerful, perfectly cast and totally absorbing. It is darkly amusing, beautifully crafted and very appropriately performed in a quaint English setting,  The Watermill, Newbury.

As soon as the actors speak, you know you are in safe hands. Very subtly, they expose the hideous truths behind the 1930's tennis–and-tea-on-the-terrace lifestyle.

Father, Leonard Ardsley (John Nettleton) instantly recognisable from Yes (Prime) Minister, is perfect as the comfortable, pompous, small-town solicitor. Firmly rooted in another era, he can't see the world collapsing around him.

With death, hysteria, injury, impending scandal and tragedy in his very own drawing room, he congratulates them all on their good fortune, being together round the family fireside. Everything stops for tea at 5pm in his world. A lesser actor would have been unconvincing in this.

"And a very famous actor (Richard Briers), sitting just behind me, also seemed very impressed!"
Thelma Howarth

His wife, Charlotte (Polly Adams) is the quintessential turn of the century lady (elegantly emphasised by her costume), also a fish out of water in the 'modern era'.  She has many pearls of wisdom to impart but does so very movingly and naturally.

Sydney (Richard Clothier) gives a wonderful performance as the son, blinded in the War and reduced to playing chess and manipulating people, apparently seeing nothing but actually seeing everything. We learn this as his composure is finally shattered and he delivers a natural-sounding outburst on the futility of war. He never overdoes his bitterness but we know it's there.

Abigail McKern's Eva, the unmarried daughter, conveys the strain of lost love and being groomed as her blind brother's carer, very strongly. When her mental state is finally pushed over the edge, we could weep for her. 

One of the most moving moments was when Issy van Randwyck's genteel Ethel (the mis-matched, married daughter) is alone with the audience at last. She can suppress the misery of her marriage to a 'lower class', heavy drinking , uncouth farmer, no longer. Her face crumples, a single tear escapes. It's pure, understated agony.

Simon Slater and Olivia Llwellyn
Simon Slater and Olivia Llwellyn

Her husband, Howard (Simon Slater) was so believable in his tweed breeches, you could almost smell the cowshed!

I loved Lucy Fleming's, Gwen, who is silliness personified. Such a character can be tedious to listen to, but perfectly pitched in this case.

There is another very poignant moment when we realise that war hero/bankrupt businessman, Collie (Tom Beard), could have been saved by the money so easily afforded by an admirer, on Lois's pearls.  

Collie manages to maintain his worried and humiliated look without resorting to pacing the stage huffing and puffing. You can feel his pain.

Olivia Llewellyn's Lois is excellent as a selfish 26-year-old, who has enough savvy to be realistic about her options, if she stays at home through another manless winter.  

The sets are simple – a branch to make us think 'Kent garden', a large drawing room window and the wall of the house. Is the dark pattern on the wall there to represent the gathering political storm clouds of the 1930's I wonder?

In the second act, rain beating against this darkened window, justifies Lois's dread of the impending winter very effectively.

The contrast between the stoical older generation and the shattered younger lives, is beautifully done. It's a very strong message but the pace is perfect throughout, with no diatribes sticking out like sore thumbs.

I give the play 10 out of 10 but don't just take my word for it: All the comment, overheard from the toilet cubicle and the tea queue, concurred. And a very famous actor (Richard Briers), sitting just behind me, also seemed very impressed!

last updated: 20/03/07
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