Neil Pearson (pictured) will star in the first major revival of Michael Frayn's award-winning 1980s drama Benefactors. The brand new production opens in Milton Keynes on 22 May 2002 before embarking on a brief regional tour ahead of a West End transfer. The production will begin previews in the West End from 17 June 2002, although at which venue has yet to be confirmed.

Benefactors first premiered at London's Vaudeville Theatre in 1984 when it won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Play. The original cast was Brenda Blethyn, Oliver Cotton, Patricia Hodge and Tim Pigott-Smith. It later played on Broadway, starring Glenn Close, and received a Tony Award nomination.

Spanning a period of 15 years, the piece traces the intricate relationship of two neighbouring couples. Jane and David are successful, happy professionals while Sheila and Colin are angry, insecure and isolated. Benefactors explores the interplay between politics and architecture, those who help and those who are helped, those who create and those who destroy.

The play was inspired by Frayn's own experience of building and living in a communal house in Blackheath, south London. His other award-winning plays include Copenhagen and backstage farce Noises Off, which continues at the West End's Comedy Theatre, following its runs at the National and Piccadilly Theatres. This production of Benefactors reunites the creative team behind the Noises Off revival: director Jeremy Sams and designer Robert Jones.

Pearson is best known for his TV turns in the likes of Drop the Dead Donkey and Between the Lines. He was last seen in the West End in 1998 in Patrick Marber's Closer while last autumn he appeared on tour in Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing. Pearson is joined in the cast by Emma Chambers (Notting Hill, TV's The Vicar of Dibley and, on stage, Tartuffe and Trelawny of the Wells) and Aden Gillett (Noises Off, An Inspector Calls, Three Sisters).

Following Milton Keynes and prior to the West End, Benefactors will visit Brighton, Richmond and Oxford.

- by Terri Paddock