Writer: W. Somerset Maugham
Director: Tom Littler
Reviewer: Margarita Shivarova
A period drama putting the life of the Ardsleys’ household at the centre of what comes to be a thorough depiction of the multitude individual and collective struggles in a post-World War I England. Although set almost a hundred years ago, the play by W. Somerset Maugham’s still resonates with societal problems today and is a great reminder of the better questions one should be asking about the value of life.
With a rather unusual split between the heaviness of each Act, the play begins with a short introduction to the main characters, their recent history and a hint of the drama that awaits in the second part. For some the war has left tangible scars as in the case of Sydney’s blindness. For others, mainly the women, life comes down to survival based on patience and acceptance. And for those who attempt to change their lives like the former sailor Collie, carrying the burden of an unsuccessful garage business, there is not much left, but to hope, ask for help and subside with whatever dignity he has left.
In fact, the worth and use of honour in a post-war society with little government support for the survivors, who find themselves unprepared for the struggles of ordinarylife,is heavily questioned as it can literally drive one mad. Societal expectations of aging, marriage and settling down appear a great worry for all women in the play except Charlotte Ardsley. Her calm, but cold behaviour particularly in moments of high tension is as if the glue that holds a traditional healthy looking family together in a mid-1930s era. Yet, the intricacy of the play demonstrates that precisely this way of thinking is perhaps to blame for her children’s avoidance of emotional expression.
The most humbling part of the play, though, also falls within the mother’s role when learning about her nearing death allows an unprecedented freedom to accept people’s choices and let go of the responsibility to hold the family together. Almost all of the characters in fact undergo a change in perception, or rather reveal a truth that sits within them disguised behind the false impression that one should only be grateful to be among the lucky ones who survived the war. Except for the head of the family, Leonard Ardsley’s, a businessman too busy to spend time with his family and understand the individual turmoil ironically underwritten by the actions and decisions of men like him.
The numerous drama plots that resolve within an hour and a half are brilliantly handled in a way that isn’t hugely overwhelming. The sentimentality of the platonic romances Lois can’t help but be part of, on the other hand, gives a balanced playful streak to the play in addition to the ridiculously funny Viss Elliott Safavi in the role of the jealous family friend.
The cast’s flow and chemistry complemented by the Al Johnson background soundtrack during the interval helps present this difficult period in a beautiful way. For a stage of this size there are lot of props and the fact that all of them get used with space left for action contribute to imagining the atmosphere of the country house. A classical play whose motives pass the test of time due to its relevant motives and sleek production.
Runs until 5 October 2019 | Image: Robert Workman