Novelist and playwright Michael Frayn is one of the only writers in the English language to have achieved success in both drama and prose fiction. He is probably best known for his play Copenhagen (which won a Tony Award) and novel Headlong (which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize). As part of their ongoing effort to champion living playwrights, Sheffield Theatres are in the middle of a season of his work; with tonight being the turn of Benefactors.
David (Simon Wilson) is an architect dreaming of improving the lives of those living in an inner-city slum. Jane (Abigail Cruttendon) is his supportive wife but is she starting to feel a prickle of conscience? Colin (Andrew Woodal) and Sheila (Rebecca Lacey) are their neighbours; a cynical journalist and his downtrodden wife. Whilst David’s dream begins to take shape, his project starts to have a life-changing effect on all the protagonists; leading to a change in the dynamics of their relationships and conflict.
Beginning in the late ‘60s, Benefactors is a work encompassing the social issues of the day; not only portraying the ideological shift in public housing towards pragmatism, but also the changing role of women in society. David’s skyscrapers are a symbol of the changing political and socio-economic landscape and the forthcoming recession. David and Jane take on Colin and Sheila as their own domestic project, going out of their way to help them in every way, but as David finds his architectural plans thwarted on all sides, their good works begin to have unforeseen consequences which will effect all their lives.
Frayn writes very intelligently and Benefactors is no exception. It is quite a coupe on behalf of Sheffield Theatres, and director Charlotte Gwinner, to amass such an impressive cast. Benefactors is a four-handed piece centring around David and Jane’s kitchen. It relies heavily on the script and performances, and whilst they all deliver superb performances, the real stars of the show are the ladies. Cruttendon deftly portrays an average middle class housewife, who, through supporting David, comes to realise that she wants more in life. However, Lacey steals the show as the mousy put-upon Sheila; she is often the focal point for the humour and employs a delightful array of facial expressions.
Benefactors is another triumph in what is a fantastic season of plays celebrating the work of one of this countries greatest living playwrights. Benefactors, Copenhagen and Democracy are all currently running, higlighting the great work being done by Sheffield Theatres.
For more information on the Michael Frayn season visit http://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/season/the-michael-frayn-season