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A CurtainUp London Review
For Services Rendered

"We were the dupes. — Sydney
For Services Rendered
Richard Keightley as Sydney Ardsley
(Photo: Robert Workman)
Jermyn Street Theatre under their Artistic Director Tom Littler mines the archive of English plays written in the 20th century for diamonds. Somerset Maugham's 1932 play For Services Rendered is about a family left after the devastation of the First World War. We know that a whole generation of young men were lost so that many of the women born around 1900 found themselves single for a lifetime. In the play Evie (Rachel Pickup) is single and caring for her brother Sydney (Richard Keightley) who lost his sight in the war. Evie has lost her fiancé Ted in the war.

Set in the Ardsley's home in the fictional village of Rambleston, Kent, their three daughters and son have all survived the war. Leonard Ardsley (Richard Berrington) is a solicitor and mainstay of the local community while his wife Charlotte (Diana Fletcher) runs their household. Ethel (Leah Whitaker) the middle daughter has married a local farmer Howard Bartlett (Burt Caesar) and has children. Ethel is a hands on farmer while her husband has a drink problem. So the only married daughter of the three has married beneath her and is disappointed.

The youngest girl is Lois (Sally Cheng) now aged 26 and at a loose end. It is 15 years since Sydney came home blinded and scarred by action in the army and needing daily care and she was too young then to take on that responsibility.

It may be by Somerset Maugham but the ennui you feel in this household could be by a Russian author. A tennis party is assembled at the Ardsleys' home and there are guests: a local retired businessman Wilfred Cedar (Michael Lumsden), his second wife gossipy Gwen (Viss Ellliott Safavi) and Collie Stratton (Jotham Annan) who owns a struggling local garage having been refused a permanent commission after his illustrious naval career.

So of those who fought in the war, Sydney played beautifully as a blind man by Richard Keightley is permanently maimed and Collie is getting into debt as his business fails. As I write, Tom Littler's production has me believing in these characters and their quiet despair. Sydney makes a long speech towards the end of the play when he expresses his fury at how he, and the men who fought alongside him, have been treated.

Like the blind characters in Greek plays, he has developed inner sight. Sydney talks of those that died, those who were broken, shattered thinking they were fighting for a good cause but that "we were the dupes, sacrificed to the greed and vanity of those who will muddle us into another war."

Wilfred Cedar will use his money to try to seduce Lois and his wife will suspect as she remembers how she was his second wife and he, her second husband. In a beautifully nuanced performance from Sally Cheng, Lois will look at the life that Ethel and Evie have and maybe determine her own path.

The set is a vision of English country charm. Roses climb up the wall and a silver tea service is complemented by fine china cups and saucers. A maid Gertrude (Aoife Kennan) in uniform serves tea. It is only when a character picks a rose that we realise this rose is made of paper like the origami salt cellars we used for fortune telling. Of course this vision of rural idyll is also an illusion. Even the mother Charlotte has a devastating secret.

Twelve is an exceptional number for the cast in Jermyn Street but I didn't feel the production was at all cramped, just that the lives of many of the characters had been stifled by that terrible war. In a closing scene, Leonard makes a statement about how we at least have our health and happiness. He is the truly blind person in this family.

I really value Jermyn Street's discovery of these gems and their meaningful productions.

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For Services Rendered
Written by W Somerset Maugham
Directed by Tom Littler
Starring: Diane Fletcher, Richard Keightley, Leah Whitaker, Viss Elliott Safavi, Sally Cheng, Michael Lumsden, Rachel Pickup, Jotham Annan, Richard Derrington, Burt Caesar
With Aoife Kennan, Jim Findley
Set Design: Louie Whitemore
Lighting Design: Ali Hunter
Sound Designer: Yvonne Gilbert
Costume Designer: Emily Stuart
Fight Director: Philip D'Orl%eacute;ans
Running time: Two hours 15 minutes including one interval
Box Office: 020 7287 2875
Booking to 5th October 2019
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 9th September 2019 evening performance at Jermyn Street Theatre, 16b Jermyn Street, London SW1Y 6ST (Tube: Piccadilly Circus)
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