Melancholy pervades James Bounds’ heartfelt revival of Somerset Maugham’s tale of a wealthy family struggling to adapt in the aftermath of the Great War, which has left Sydney, the only son, blind. The diffuse yellow light that plays across the set, a country-house conservatory, evokes a summer’s day drawing to its close. Change is in the air.
Criticised in 1932 for its bleak outlook, ‘For Services Rendered’ now feels jarringly of its time. Men are ‘brutes’, the working-classes are no good and posh people argue passionately between tennis matches and tea. It’s a sign of how desperate things are when oldest daughter Eva (a suitably unhinged Pamela Banks) snaps and sends a tray of scones flying.
During the first act, this melodrama is stifling – the characters buried under so many issues of the day that we can’t get close to them. And it seems a wasted opportunity to present Howard Bartlett, the farmer who marries into the family, as nothing more than a lascivious chancer in an ill-fitting suit.
But once Maugham’s grandstanding subsides, there’s wit and warmth to be found. Jonathan Peck is satisfyingly droll and un-saintly as Sydney while Eliza Hunt is hugely affecting as his mother, Charlotte; a no-nonsense woman coming to terms with her mortality in a world that has left her behind.
First published by Time Out Magazine