PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 September, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 September, 1998, 12:00am

Benefactors, (in Cantonese), Exploration Theatre, City Hall, September 11 This is not a theatre production you would want to see after a long day.

Written by award-winning British playwright Michael Frayn, translated by Szeto Wai-kin and directed by Karley Ng, Benefactors fails to grab the audience's attention until the intermission - some 90 minutes into the show.

Has that to do with the slow-moving script, or the actors' inability to get their teeth into their roles? Or is it simply because the humour and comic spirit of the original is lost in the translation? The play is set against the backdrop of change and destruction.

Architect David (Davis Yu) is assigned to redevelop an old and rundown area known as 'Little India'.

Part of the plan is to construct a new building - possibly a skyscraper - that could re-house all the inhabitants.

While David is thrilled to take on the project, little does he know it is going to effect his relationship with his wife Jane (Chiu Yuet-ming) and long-term friends Colin (Kenson Chan) and Sheila (Gladys Liu).

Jane, for one, does not see the merits of the project as it involves evicting thousands of people. But as a supportive wife, she goes along with her husband.

Colin simply watches his university friend from a distance, jealous of his success, while his 'simple' wife Sheila, whose dress matches the table cloth, secretly admires David. She subsequently falls in love with him.

Through Jane and Sheila, who narrate their side of the story, the audience learns how the redevelopment project gradually tears the four characters apart.

According to the programme, Benefactors is also a highly political piece of theatre, though this aspect of the play was lost in Ng's adaptation.

The four actors seemed slightly nervous throughout the 2.5-hour production, suggesting they are not confident they have mastered the script yet.

Definitely not as good as some of the original productions Exploration Theatre has produced, but at least the company has the courage to take on the challenge of staging a popular and successful Broadway and West End show.