Review: Benefactors ****

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Crucible Studio, Sheffield

An architect is creating a building that will be a monument to himself, his wife is ideologically unsure if it’s the right thing to do. Their neighbours are a married couple – he a campaigning journalist who opposes the building and his wife works for the architect.

So far, so domestic.

And yet. Michael Frayn’s much lauded 1984 play, an Olivier best new play winner, is about so much more.

One of the three plays that make up the Frayn season in Sheffield, this is an examination of the ideas of how we live. The human drama brings home the fact that the architect, building his skyscrapers in a London suburb, is making decisions that will have a real impact on the minutiae of ordinary people’s lives.

How does Frayn demonstrate this? By showing us the very human domestic drama – a circle of ideas, the domestic and the communal.

When architect David, played by Simon Wilson, tells his wife “you haven’t grasped one basic principle – other people’s lives are at least as complicated as your own”, Frayn is talking to us, urging, and receiving, empathy from the audience, the bedrock of good drama.

Intensely acted, Andrew Woodall as Colin the journalist, who has a deeply sinister side for all his academic detachment is flesh-crawlingly brilliant.

Director Charlotte Gwinner moves the actors about the set like a miniature chess board, revealing the intricacies of a plot couching big ideas with a great deal of panache. It’s a strong start to the Frayn season.

To March 24.