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For Services Rendered by W. Somerset Maugham, adapted by Lu Kemp

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Saturday Drama on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4, 7 September 2013
 
Written in 1932, For Services Rendered has strong links to J. B. Priestley's An Inspector Calls, in the sense that both plays use the basic conceit of a family gathered together in a home to explore the state of the nation.  The Ardsley family are experiencing hard times - especially the children Ethel (Mariah Gale) (married to a former officer who turns out to be a heavy drinker), Eva (Cath Whitefield) - unmarried but dedicating herself to looking after her brother Sydney (Tom Espinner), who has been blinded in the First World War, and Lois (Louise Brealey) a single girl with not much hope of escaping the family home.  Their mother Charlotte (Sian Thomas) tries to sustain a fašade of calm, but discovers something that will change her life and that of her family forever.  Other characters involved include a middle-aged businessman (Ron Cook), a demobbed soldier turned failed garage-owner (Justin Salinger) and an amiable doctor (John Rowe).
 
Lu Kemp's production made some trenchant points about the pernicious influence of capitalism, which not only leads to success but can also ruin people's lives.  Money is the principal means by which people judge themselves: if you've got it, you're socially successful; if you haven't, then nobody wants to know you.  Collie discovered this painful fact of life early on in the play, as he asked Wilfred for a loan but was brutally refused.
 
What rendered this revival particularly powerful was the quality of the performances.  Cook's Wilfred initially came across as a jovial person; his conversation was peppered with platitudes ("Quite so, old boy") as he tried to make himself agreeable to the Ardsley family.  Once we discovered his true motives, however, he appeared to be nothing more than a Machiavellian manipulator, treating his wife Gwen (Hettie Baynes Russell) like a slave while ruthlessly pursuing the much younger Lois.
 
David Calder's Leonard Ardsley bore strong resemblances to Mr. Birling in An Inspector Calls -  a fundamentally decent personality who blissfully assumed that everything was fine, simply because his family had sufficient money to live on.  Towards the end of the play, he uttered the kind of meaningless platitudes about England - that it was actually "all right" or on the right track - that showed how little he understood of those around him.  Calder delivered the lines as if he were a government minister trying and to allay people's fears of an imminent economic crisis.
 
Thomas's Charlotte functioned as the production's emotional and familial core.  Although reluctant to disclose her own feelings (for fear of upsetting her husband), she displayed an acute understanding of how her children felt - especially Eva and Lois.  While unable to offer them much help, she understood the importance of letting them make their own decisions; for better or for worse.  In that way they could learn the kind of self-reliance that might transform them into better citizens, rather than blindly following their family's wishes.
 
Towards the end, the production became almost Chekhovian in tone, as the characters discovered something about themselves and their relationship to the world.  While unable to do much to rectify their situation, some of them could console themselves with the fact that they had embarked on a process of self-discovery.