Benefactors - Ensemble Theatre (NSW)
By Michael Frayne. Directed by Mark Kilmurry
Reviewed by Juliana Payne
Ensemble Theatre, Sydney
16 Jun 2023 - 22 Jul 2023
- Some of the best acting you'll see on a Sydney stage this year, not to mention the funniest! -
Benefactors by Michael Frayn is a theatrical gem. Ensemble Theatre lifts it to ‘diamond’ status through the company and crew of their current production. Frayn’s clever, funny, dark and perspicacious (read astute) script finds fulsome expression in the expert abilities of the two leads, Gareth Davies and Emma Palmer, wonderfully supported by Megan Drury and Matt Minto. It is one of those nights at the theatre that is perfect for the audience: watching actors at the top of their game, marvellously directed on a set that is just right. Bravo to all involved.
From the opening scene, Benefactors grabs your attention and refuses to let go. The play explores the intricacies of human relationships, the complexities of power dynamics both inter- and intra-gender, and the unavoidable fragility of the human condition. And it’s just so funny. This is where the seemingly effortless skills of the actors come into its own. It’s harder to make realistic dialogue sound natural and spontaneous, than say Shakespearean dialogue, but these four actors hit it out of the park. With genuine chemistry between them, Davies and Palmer brought the many complexities of a mid-term marriage to hilarious life. The script is structured with alternating ‘piece to camera’ interjections where the characters address the audience, throwing their human foibles into sharp relief as they contradict themselves and reveal their own petty grievances. Every actor breathed life into their role, delivering nuanced performances that are simultaneously comic and tragic.
Images by Prudence Upton
It was written in 1984, and set in the late 1960s, but the dialogue and subject matter are utterly contemporary and relevant, even eerie when you consider the Grenfell Towers disaster could have been the result of this play’s plot. Frayn has a genius ear for language and pacing and director Mark Kilmurry did it proud. The seamless transitions between scenes, the precise pacing, and the attention to facial expressions create an immersive experience. The set design and lighting further elevate the production, transporting the audience into the world of the play.
What sets Benefactors apart is its ability to delve into philosophical questions without getting dry or boring. Frayn's script explores power, responsibility, and the choices we make (or don’t), that unfolds organically in what the characters say or don’t say, do or don’t do. It beautifully captures the complexities and contradictions of human nature, but – and I can’t stress this enough – it’s still really really funny.
It’s harder to make realistic dialogue sound natural and spontaneous, than say Shakespearean dialogue, but these four actors hit it out of the park.
Every theatre student should see this performance for a masterclass in acting; every other person should see it because it’s a fantastic production where – for once – they get everything right. You may not see better acting this year in Sydney and possibly the country. Trust me.
Playwright Michael Frayn
Director Mark Kilmurry
Assistant Director Margaret Thanos
Gareth Davies Megan Drury Matt Minto Emma Palmer
Set & Costume Designer Nick Fry
Lighting Designer Matt Cox
Sound Designer David Grigg
Dialect Coach Linda Nicholls-Gidley
Stage Manager Isabella Kerdijk
Costume Supervisor Renata Beslik
16 Jun 2023 - 22 Jul 2023
2hrs 20mins (including interval)
Recommended for ages 14+
Audio Described (selected dates)