(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 8/7.)
This is Chichester at its best: reviving a little-known play by Somerset Maugham with a first-rate cast and the outstanding director, Howard Davies. Originally seen in 1932, and rediscovered by the Old Vic in 1993, Maugham’s play offers a blistering portrait of the ruinous aftermath of the first world war and our creation of a society unfit for heroes.
Maugham’s focus is on a country solicitor’s family and their gathering misfortunes. The son, Sydney, is a sightless, embittered casualty of war and his three sisters are all, to varying degrees, desperate. The most tragic is Eva, who lost her fiance in the war and who is driven towards madness when spurned by a bankrupt ex-naval hero. Of her siblings, Ethel is unhappily hitched to a brutish tenant-farmer while Lois makes a cynical sexual bargain with a man she despises. Even if Maugham piles on the agony, with the family’s mother suffering a terminal illness, he shows the toxic impact of war on civilian life and suggests that the ideals of honour, patriotism and glory mean nothing if we show no care for the victims of conflict.
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