Premiering in 1932, Somerset Maugham’s interwar drama, For Services Rendered, captures the changing fortunes of an extended country family all concealing various sorrows behind the façade of upright Englishness.
Debt, war injuries, alcoholism and geographical entrapment all play their part in the characters’ discontentment. For every sentence spoken, there are always five more left hanging heavily in the air.
Director Tom Littler’s staging of the work is a slight but sweet affair. Sally Cheng stands out for her animated and often amusing performance as Lois Ardsley, the bright young thing happy to pinch someone else’s older husband in order to gain an escape route to London. Cheng captures Lois’ absolute pragmatism in designing a life for herself that doesn’t end with her being an old maid in backwater Kent.
Although set in late summer, Louie Whitemore’s rural stage design carries with it a strong hint of the coming autumn. Climbing roses crumple at the lightest touch, brown bullrushes line the edge and apples litter the ground. It’s all a neat reminder of how the heady days of Edwardian garden parties are firmly in the country’s past and, especially for these characters, the future threatens more trying times.
In places, the awfully upper-class English mannerisms adopted while drinking tea or discussing bridge veer too far into cliché and the final moments feel rushed. But overall it’s a well-performed and immaculately costumed performance of an interesting play, whose anti-war message was ahead of its time.