by W Somerset Maugham.

Minerva Theatre Oaklands Park PO19 6AP To 5 September 2015.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Sat & 20, 26, Aug, 3 Sep 2.45pm.
Audio-described 4 Sep, 5 Sep 2.45pm.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.

TICKETS: 01243 781312.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 14 August.

Clear and detailed revival of a forceful drama.
In Anton Chekhov’s Seagull, which will soon help round-off this year’s Chichester season, successful writer Trigorin laments the qualified praise his work receives – ‘very good, but not Turgenev’. It could be said of William Somerset Maugham’s 1932 drama that it’s compelling, but isn’t Chekhov.

Maugham’s three Ardsley sisters are unhappy in a spacious house amid the rolling Kentish weald – painted like a transport advert from the period in William Dudley’s calmly elegant set. There are occasional sounds of modernity – a distant plane or train – but the house is essentially a prison. Coils of barbed-wire outside recall the Great War’s aftermath and suggest the barriers of a society based on class and money. Everything seems cheerful at first – almost everyone’s been for tennis, but cold selfishness soon starts showing.

Howard Davies’ Minerva revival delineates how male economic dominance holds women down. Marriage and family alike confine them: Edith with heavy-drinking, edge-of-violence tenant farmer Wilfred, recalling his war years as ‘an officer and a gentleman’, now detached from this middle-class world of doctors and solicitors, or Gwen with her rich unfaithful husband.

He spends thousands on young Lois while refusing a life-saving loan of hundreds to another of the circle. Yolanda Kettle and Matilda Ziegler contrast the divided desire of young Lois and fear-propelled anger of Gwen, who feels her season in the sun is ending – the power of young women’s attraction and fear at its fading parallels the office-workers’ world of John van Druten’s London Wall, premiered in 1931.

Justine Mitchell finds the pain of love stifled by social expectations and financial pride, leading to the angry, agonised despair in unmarried Eva – a searing performance, at its climax the actor skilfully controlling her character’s loss of all self-control in denouncing her world.

The men are more one-dimensional, though Simon Chandler increasingly reveals the bland inhumanity in the family’s dapper father. His final speech seems a tacked-on tailpiece, designed to rouse audience anger.

If Maugham’s bitterness, seen from the play’s ironic title to this conclusion, makes it less than Chekhov, his skilful characterisation and structuring ensure For Services Rendered still grips tight.

Mrs Ardsley: Stella Gonet.
Sydney Ardsley: Joseph Kloska.
Ethel Bartlett: Jo Herbert.
Gwen Cedar: Matilda Ziegler.
Lois Ardsley: Yolanda Kettle.
Wilfred Cedar: Anthony Calf.
Eva Ardsley: Justine Mitchell.
Collie Stratton: Nick Fletcher.
Mr Ardsley: Simon Chandler.
Dr Prentice: David Annen.
Howard Bartlett: Sam Callis.

Director: Howard Davies.
Designer: William Dudley.
Lighting: Mark Henderson.
Sound: Mike Walker.
Fight director: Terry King.
Assistant director: Jake Smith.

2015-08-15 11:47:40

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