It’s an old fashioned play set in, and dating from, the early 1930s with a cast of twelve, lots of busy entrances and exits and plenty of tea. We’re in first the garden, and then the sitting room of a middle class family: Leonard Ardsley is a solicitor. I sensed that, even on press night, it was new to most of the audience and it certainly was to me.
In Tom Littler’s adept hands, however, it feels pretty fresh and although the issues it explores are historical, there are topical nuances. Why, for instance, bearing in mind that Somerset Maugham had what the programme note calls “long suppressed sexual problems”, is Collie Stratton (Jotham Annan - good) so determined not to solve all his problems by marrying the eldest Ardsley daughter, Evie ( Rachel Pickup of whom more in a moment)?
The play explores the perceived need for women to marry for social and economic reasons which, for many was impossible at this date because so many young men had died in the war. One daughter, Ethel (Leah Whittaker) has made a less than satisfactory compromise marriage. The youngest, Lois (Sally Cheng) is considering smashing convention by grabbing her chances to leave provincial life in a way which is never going to be approved of. Meanwhile, Sydney, the Ardsley’s only son, is blind owing to war injury and therefore treated as an invalid. The piece also asks – still topical – questions about what distinguished officers are actually meant to do once they’re deposited back in civilian life which can be hostile and difficult. Oh yes there’s plenty going on here – arguably too much – but it makes quite gripping theatre especially when you’re experiencing the play for the first time.
There’s a deal of accomplished acting in this production. Rachel Pickup is terrific as the angry, anguished, desperate, pent-up Eva. She pleads, reasons and tries to flirt with Annan’s character. Eventually when things have gone seriously wrong, Eva loses control and Pickup gives us a masterclass in onstage hysteria – not easy when the audience is televisually close but she handles it magnificently.
Diane Fletcher brings warmth, humanity, commonsense and resignation to Charlotte Ardsley mother to four other characters. Then there’s Gwen Cedar, a local friend whose refined awfulness is straight out of Jane Austen – Viss Elliott Safavi makes her believable and tiresome but also rounded so that in the end we feel some sympathy for her.
The Jermyn Street Theatre is celebrating it’s 25th birthday and For Services Rendered opens the venue’s Memories Season. It’s an ambitious project in this small space but I’m glad that Littler and his colleagues have taken it on.