“The only thing is to grin and bear it”
Timing is everything and the anti-war message of Somerset Maugham’s 1932 play For Services Rendered failed to gain any purchase on contemporary audiences, making it something of a failure. But listening to Lu Kemp’s adaptation for Radio 4, it strikes as an extraordinarily prescient piece of work, more so given the eventual declaration and devastation of the Second World War, and it surely due for a substantial theatrical revival. As it is, this version will more than do for now as its tale of how the impact of the First World War lingered perniciously on in the lives of the nation is embodied in the trials of the Ardsley family and their friends.
Leonard and Charlotte Ardsley have four children and though superficially their lives in the Kent countryside are going well, there’s much trauma and difficulty just beneath the surface. Only son Sydney was blinded in the war and sister Eva has devoted herself entirely to his care, much to the expense of her own situation and youngest daughter Lois also finds herself unmarried due to the lack of prospects. Ethel is the one that did manage to secure herself a husband but the upheaval of wartime blinded her to his eminent lack of suitability and now in peacetime, she is left to repent at leisure. With so much bubbling away as the social order decays, it isn’t long before changes start to force themselves upon this group.
It is powerful stuff, full of archetypal English repression and bucolic rebellion as Eva and Lois in particular decide to seize the initiative in what looks like it could be a brave new world, but find that the rest of the world hasn’t quite caught up to them. Cath Whitefield’s Eva is the picture of a frustrated do-gooder, unable to comprehend why her kindness to others hasn’t resulted in personal happiness; Louise Brealey makes a good fist of the flighty Lois, willing to do almost anything in the face of such limited opportunity; and there’s excellent work too from Siân Thomas as their mother, Justin Salinger as a former naval officer ill-equipped to survive in the real world and Michael Schaeffer as Ethel’s flirtatious lower-class husband. Definitely recommended.
Rachel De-lahay’s Carnival is something completely different, a fearlessly contemporary look at young black communities, the ties that bind them and bring them together in joy but also the issues that threaten and tear apart families, friends, fellows. It feels a bold piece of programming for Radio 4 (although it is sad that I have to say that) but De-lahay more than rises to it, her instinctive ear for the rhythm and drama of teenage speech and concerns folded into this short story about cock-of-the-wood Michael, whose headlining gig at the titular event is sidetracked by the legacy of last year’s trouble, his mouthy sister and the difficulties in his relationship. [Small spoiler] I particularly love that its a story about gay relationships in the black community, an under-explored subject and one which is rewards us richly here.