Tag Archives: Robert Workman

For Services Rendered

★★★★★

Jermyn Street Theatre

For Services Rendered

For Services Rendered

Jermyn Street Theatre

Reviewed – 6th September 2019

★★★★★

 

“A deliciously haunting production from a plucky and dedicated theatre”

 

It’s late summer, a stifling atmosphere pervades the Kentish home of the Ardsley family, all of whom are in some way affected by the ending of the Great War. Whether by injury, hasty marriage, stagnating economy or the stultifying culture of abandonment dressed up as just getting on with things, each face a future of anxiety and diminishment. Only the youngest, Lois, seems to have escape routes, though none without penalty.

Somerset Maugham’s angry and sullenly anti-war work, premiered in 1932, was not deemed a huge success, despite or because of its scathing lines satirising attitudes to returning combatants. Over time the drama’s unblinking appraisal of human motivations led to more literary critiques and a smattering of recent revivals. Opening the Jermyn Street Theatre’s Memories Season, at a time of when England is again wracked by change and the younger generation must again face shrinking horizons to a chorus of entreaties to be optimistic, it fits like a well-made suit, though modern parallels are thankfully not forced.

The set by Louie Whitemore establishes a world of tennis and tea on the lawn very much as the writer intended and, as the action ensues, Emily Stuart’s beautifully tailored period costumes underline the sense of a moment in time, perfectly preserved. Diane Fletcher as the weary matriarch, Charlotte, portrays with precision the slow acceptance that nothing seems to matter anymore; every glance and micro-expression accumulating dejection.

The four Ardsley children all have different reasons to feel frustrated in their pursuit of a meaningful life and after the interval the masterful writing chillingly depicts how human nature turns venal as a consequence of being starved of options. All performances do their bit for the cause. Richard Keightley is particularly unerring in his performance of the war-blinded, still fragile but chipper Sydney Ardsley, but no character is overplayed, which only makes their suffocating predicament more so. Even the lower class, drunken oaf, Howard played by Burt Caesar restrains his boorishness, slurping beer in noisy measured gulps, advancing on young Lois in the same methodical way, using the sinister wartime logic of enjoying life while you can, alarmingly transposed to peace time. Sally Cheng as Lois, Rachel Pickup as Eva Ardsley and Jotham Annan as Collie Stratton follow suit, politely unravelling their tragic prospects at the same rate with varying degrees of brittle cheerfulness.

Direction by the theatre’s Artistic Director Tom Littler is subtle, possibly unadventurous, but in doing so, he allows the mounting frustration to moulder into angst and finally to a very English version of hysteria, all at an insidiously clockwork pace, marked by distant church clock chimes, refilled whisky and sodas, tea and the dropping apples and rose heads. We feel we are watching England decline before us in real time. A deliciously haunting production from a plucky and dedicated theatre celebrating its 25th anniversary.

 

Reviewed by Dominic Gettins

Photography by Robert Workman

 


For Services Rendered

Jermyn Street Theatre until 5th October

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Burke & Hare | ★★★★ | November 2018
Original Death Rabbit | ★★★★★ | January 2019
Agnes Colander: An Attempt At Life | ★★★★ | February 2019
Mary’s Babies | ★★★ | March 2019
Creditors | ★★★★ | April 2019
Miss Julie | ★★★ | April 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (A) | ★★★ | June 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (B) | ★★★ | June 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (C) | ★★★★ | June 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (D) | ★★ | June 2019

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

Miss Julie
★★★

Jermyn Street Theatre

Miss Julie

Miss Julie

Jermyn Street Theatre

Reviewed – 30th April 2019

★★★

 

“Strindberg still has an incredible amount to say to modern audiences”

 

Having loved Creditors the previous night, I was very excited to experience Miss Julie – the most famous of August Strindberg’s plays – which is running on alternating nights at the Jermyn Street Theatre. Despite the trademark qualities of the writer being fully present, here they didn’t feel as tightly honed as in Creditors, resulting in a production that felt lost at times.

Originally written in 1888 and adapted by Howard Brenton based on a translation from Agnes Broomé, Miss Julie focuses on the relationship between the upper class titular character (Charlotte Hamblin) and her servant Jean (James Sheldon), as the pair use their status and seductiveness against each other in an ever shifting scuffle for power over one another. The play constructs an engaging commentary on the trappings of the class system at either end of the spectrum, and the ways in which love and sex can exist outside of that system, and it’s a credit to both Brenton and Strindberg that a lot of the arguments presented don’t feel stale, instead capturing a sense of modernity and relevance to the still-prevalent class oppression in our society.

However, other aspects of Miss Julie have not aged so well. The play was first conceived at a time when the likes of Ibsen and Chekhov had made naturalist theatre a new phenomenon, and so the play at times feels like it’s trying a little too hard to be the most naturalistic, at the expense of delivering a focused plot. Extended sequences in which Jean’s fiancée Kristin (Dorothea Myer-Bennett) cooks or waits for the other characters to return are dreary, and a huge detriment to the pace of the narrative. Additionally, after a blistering middle that is dripping with tension and psychological game-playing, the final section feels unsure of how to resolve its plot, and features the characters repeatedly threatening to do something then changing their mind. Consequently, when the actual resolution comes around, it fails to land with any weight as the audience had been conditioned not to trust the solutions the script presented.

These shortcomings are greatly atoned for with the performances, with mature and sensitive direction from Tom Littler. The fierce and flirtatious chemistry between Sheldon and Hamblin is tectonic as she toys with him, and the slow unveiling of his deeply embittered psyche is gripping. Hamblin’s performance later becomes a little over-wrought, as some speeches feel like they’re all being played at maximum distress at all times and as a result lack variety, but it provides an interesting contrast with Myer-Bennett’s grounded portrayal, and by and large the cast show a total mastery over the text, bringing humanity and idiosyncrasy to the forefront at every opportunity.

Miss Julie is in some ways very messy, and yet it was also hugely engrossing, which has made abundantly clear that even if it’s not being said in the most effective way, Strindberg still has an incredible amount to say to modern audiences.

 

Reviewed by Tom Francis

Photography by Robert Workman

 


Miss Julie

Jermyn Street Theatre until 1st June

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Tonight at 8.30 | ★★★★★ | April 2018
Tomorrow at Noon | ★★★★ | May 2018
Stitchers | ★★★½ | June 2018
The Play About my Dad | ★★★★ | June 2018
Hymn to Love | ★★★ | July 2018
Burke & Hare | ★★★★ | November 2018
Original Death Rabbit | ★★★★★ | January 2019
Agnes Colander: An Attempt At Life | ★★★★ | February 2019
Mary’s Babies | ★★★ | March 2019
Creditors | ★★★★ | April 2019

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