Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Benefactors is, as the title suggests, about helping others. Rather than approach the subject in an obvious manner, however, Frayn elects to explore as many of the ramifications of benefaction as he can. The play starts with a situation that seems straightforward. David gets a contract to help London’s poor with a housing renewal project, and he and Jane have been helping their good friends across the street in all sorts of ways for some time. Then the situation begins to be questioned subtly. Colin soon hints that he and Sheila are really helping David and Jane: “We make them feel good. It’s our one contribution to the world.” David, in turn, is all for helping their friends, but only as long as it is Jane who does most of the actual work; his notion of benefaction seems to be stronger in the abstract than it is in the particular.

In a further switch, David and Jane eventually become rather dependent upon Sheila when she goes to work for them. They are still helping Sheila by employing her and giving her and her children a place to live, but Sheila, once almost totally dependent upon Jane’s help, is now herself very much a benefactor of her former mentor.

Colin is a sardonic and even a destructive force, hovering about the edge of the action until the second act. At that point, he begins to resist in earnest David’s approach to helping the South Londoners, by helping them organize against the tower project in favor of...

(The entire section is 463 words.)