BWW Review: FOR SERVICES RENDERED, Jermyn Street Theatre
Somerset Maugham's For Services Rendered opens Jermyn Street Theatre's new season, which celebrates the establishment's 25th anniversary and is aptly called the Memories Season. The First World War has left behind an England that's scarred by its own hegemony; a place where its own heroes aren't properly supported and are dying among debts and anguish.
When the play premiered in the 30s, it received the cold shoulder from audiences and critics alike due to its sharp anti-war nature. Then, the offering of a bitter glimpse of the effects of WWI on an English family went on to be considered one of the most thematically refined war pieces.
Artistic Director Tom Littler is at the helm of this unfortunate revival, which presents deeply set issues in tone and delivery. The slow and uneventful start isn't saved by Maugham's beautiful language and sharp dramatics, turning into a boring and irrelevant production as tension fails to build. The cast share no chemistry, overdoing their performances and somehow ignoring the subtlety and piercing sensitivity of the text.
The one exception is Diane Fletcher, who plays a delightful Charlotte Ardsley - the aging matriarch with a penchant for witticisms and cutting remarks. Still, while the men are coping with the outcome of active combat and the women are enduring their husband/partner/son/brother/love interest's personal suffering, the audience is treated to a show that feels inadequate on all its levels.
Neither the social critique nor the intrigue hold any weight, and Littler's attempts at visual metaphors work at his disadvantage, falling short and not translating fully on stage, actually interfering further with the timbre of the piece. Maugham's fine humour is excessively overcooked to spice up the stillness, with eyebrow-raising results.
A constant and baffling sound design by Yvonne Gilbert and Louie Whitemore's set design only add to the underwhelming start of the season. The sky-blue cloth that's stuck sloppily to each wall of the auditorium as backdrop would benefit from a quick ironing because it gives the production an amateurish aura, and not even the origami roses and gorgeous period furniture manage to save its outer looks.
For Services Rendered also sees additional seating on the stage, whose purpose isn't truly clicking as it only cramps the tiny space - which is barely enough to hold the 12 actors. Perhaps times have changed and this subject matter needs to be slightly refurbished to land properly, or perhaps the kind of charm that Littler used to coat the show has backfired unexpectedly.
Maugham's play has become a posthumous masterpiece but, regrettably, it doesn't fulfil its artistic nor political capacity here.