by Michael Frayn.

Crucible Studio 55 Norfolk Street S1 1DA To 24 March 2012.
Tue-Sat 7.45pm Mat Sat & 15, 22 March 2.15pm.
BSL Signed 8 March.
Post-show Discussion 15 March 2.15pm.
Runs 2hr 5min One interval.

TICKETS: 0114 249 6000.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 6 March.

Small-scale production shows strength of this shrewd and witty play.
Sheffield Theatres has a splendid wheeze before being Snookered late in spring. Each auditorium – the triple-deck proscenium arch Lyceum, the single-tier thrust-stage Crucible and the flexible, small-scale Crucible Studio – is given over to a single living playwright. Last year was David Hare season; this year it’s Michael Frayn.

Earliest of the Frayn trio is 1984’s Benefactors. Looking back to the late sixties, about to turn into the seventies, its story of architectural failure and middle-class marital tensions shares ground with Alan Ayckbourn’s 1972 Absurd Person Singular. But, beneath the realistic kitchen surface, Frayn is distinct in matter and manner.

Technically, he begins with an apparent husband-and-wife conversation, but it’s soon clear one is talking in the scene, the other to us in the present-day, narrating us back into the past. Peter Nichols also uses storytelling narrators, but with Frayn the character doesn’t dominate, though their voice is, unsurprisingly, sympathetic and influential in its comments on events, shaping the story. But it is everyone’s story.

Poor writing fades into the parochial with time; good writing illuminates its period. Without any effortful period recreation, what emerges in Charlotte Gwinner’s fluid revival is a fresh play, where wit, irony, intellect and interesting characters are in balance.

The ‘benefactors’ – architect David and wife Jane – who discovers, like Sheila, a purpose outside the home during the action – are somewhat like Richard and Anthea in Ayckbourn’s Joking Apart; the perfect couple, who offer everything but arouse intense irritation.

Here, the inability to stop being kind to friends melts into David’s determination to do goods by force to lesser people in his constantly compromised architect’s plans for a housing estate, ineptly designed on the model of an Oxbridge College.

Simon Wilson’s tall positive and assured David contrasts his old school-friend Colin, a negative terminal of irony and destruction, and a journalist.

Andrew Woodall plays him with fidgety discontent, bodily twitches reflecting mental dissonance, his humour turning to pure bile when attacking his sheepishly loyal wife. Rebecca Lacey grows into this character from initial simplicity, while Abigail Cruttenden perfectly expresses Jane’s sense of purpose and moral understanding.

Jane: Abigail Cruttenden.
Sheila: Rebecca Lacey.
David: Simon Wilson.
Colin: Andrew Woodall.

Director: Charlotte Gwinner.
Designer: Signe Beckmann.
Lighting: David Holmes.
Sound/Composer: Tom Mills.

2012-03-08 01:51:21

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