The film above clip is from a theatre workshop in London, in the clip the actors read excerpts and comment on Somerset Maugham’s play ‘For Services Rendered’.
In 1932 Somerset Maugham’s play For Services Rendered opened in London. The play was a commercial flop, it only ran for 78 performances compared to Maugham’s previous plays which were usually performed many hundreds of times before closing.
The truth was no one really wanted to see a play that stated war was folly. Few were interested in facing the fact that the Great War of 1914-18 had pointlessly destroyed a generation and nobody wanted to consider that another world war was inevitable.
Somerset Maugham’s ‘anti-war play’ boldly states all of the above – plus a lot more. In its time it really didn’t have an effect on public opinion relating to war and its true costs. It is one of Maugham’s final-four plays – plays he wrote for himself, not so much for the public. He had seen World War I up close while serving as a medic at the front, he had also seen its bitter aftermath in the decades after the war ended, years of hardship and stuggle for the men and women who had sacrificed all they had in the war effort. He wrote this play to be honest about the futility of war. Although unpopular when it was first staged, ironically For Services Rendered continues nowadays to be staged and aired on radio more than any other Maugham play.
Plot: Set in the years of inter-war economic slump, the play concerns the continuing after-effects of the First World War on a middle class family. Sydney Ardsley, the only brother of three sisters, has been blinded in the trenches and now whiles away his days playing bridge and chess. Sydney’s unmarried sister Eva takes care of him but her dedication is driven by a sense of duty and her own capacity for sacrifice, not out of love, something of which they are both all too aware. The play is permeated with a sense of abandonment, an air of palpable anger about these men who gave so much for their country being left to sink once the war was over.
In 2010 I was researching and filming for Revealing Mr. Maugham, my friend, the playwright Matthew Hurt organised read throughs of some of Maugham’s plays for the film. It was a chance for me to hear professional actors bring to life some of Maugham’s plays. Reading a stage play to yourself is one thing but to hear real actors deliver the text is another experience all together. Thanks to Matthew and his very talented colleagues I was able to feel (as opposed to understand) why Maugham was the top playwright of his time.
Thank you to the actors appearing in the above scene: