REVIEW: Benefactors, Crucible Studio

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BLEND envy and friendship with manipulation, need and mixed financial fortunes and you bake an unhealthy domestic cake.

Make the harbingers of those traits friends – all be that friendship sometimes unsolicited and unwanted– and you have the vastly contrasting quartet of this brilliant sociodomestic comedy from Michael Frayn.

David is an architect consumed by his plans to build tower blocks where the old homes of run-down Basuto Road now stand; Jane (Benidorm/Sharp’s Abigil Cruttenden) is his increasingly begrudging benevolent wife. Colin (an in-form, perfectly cast Andrew Woodall) their sardonic and bitter journalist neighbour and Sheila his timid spouse are the poor ‘relations’ tied only by geography.

Director Charlotte Gwinner sets this ’60s-era story in the former’s kitchen where Simon Wilson’s perfectly obsessed David pulls the rest into his orbit with varying results; not least Colin’s dramatic and swiftly feverish opposition to the “aesthetic typhoid” planned by David for south-east London.

All the while the David-adoring Sheila, a mouse-like Cybil Fawlty in the hands of Rebecca Lacey, makes herself indispensable as her “brown life” with Colin shatters and David begins to realise he has failed in both ‘projects’, the high-rise dream and this other couple.

A simple setting with pinpoint lighting, not least for narrated ‘rag-outs’ that shape our consumption of this gem allows Frayn’s brilliant words to be the true star in a play where nobody endures weak lines. Concludes March 24.