REVIEW: For Services Rendered at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester

Anthony Calf and Yolanda Kettle. Photo Richard Hubert Smith
Anthony Calf and Yolanda Kettle. Photo Richard Hubert Smith
As You Like It, with Jessica Hayles centre. Picture by Keith Pattison

How do you like it? Gender and politics in Shakespeare at the New Theatre Royal

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For a night of great acting, see this show.

A relatively minimal set – certainly compared to Mack and Mabel next door – was enough to evoke the 1930’s period the action is set in, and the ensemble cast did the rest.

Justine Mitchell (centre) is the stand-out in an excellent cast. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

Justine Mitchell (centre) is the stand-out in an excellent cast. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

W. Somerset Maugham’s play, written and set in the eye of the storm between the First and Second World Wars, cuts through the stiff upper-lip of English society to expose the unhappiness of one family during the Great Depression.

A longish first half peppered with black comedy sets up the underlying tensions of the Ardsley family, including Eva, desperate to avoid life as an old maid, and Lois, the baby of the family whose youth is rushing past her. But in the second-half, the building pressure explodes, and so too do the lives of the characters.

Yolanda Kettle wears the sexuality and boredom of Lois as well as the pearls draped around her neck, but the stand-out performance from an excellent cast is Justine Mitchell as Eva. Her descent into madness following a rejected marriage proposal is both tragic and harrowing.

What is so satisfying about this show, ironically, is the lack of any happy ending or closure – with the departure of Lois following her mother Charlotte’s diagnosis, the play ends.

Yolanda Kettle wears the sexuality and boredom of Lois as well as the pearls draped around her neck

A wonderful closing freeze frame, strongly lit from the front as the house lights went down, was burnt into your brain as you walked out of the theatre.

It represented not only a snapshot of the period but a true family portrait of these characters, each grappling with their own mortality.

Until September 5.