This revival of Somerset Maugham’s play about a wealthy family living in Golders Green in the aftermath of 1929’s economic crash retains modern resonance through the writing’s wincingly tart wit and rich terrain.
We first hear of stockbroker Charles – the titular breadwinner – from his splendidly awful wife, daughter and son, and his lawyer Alfred (a swaggeringly buffoonish Mark Frost). Maugham brilliantly skewers the younger generation’s cringing pomposity before introducing their snobby, grasping parents.
By the time Charles arrives to tell his stunned family (who have made a pastime of belittling him) that a client’s suicide has left him bankrupt, Maugham has sketched such a hilariously horrible picture of his home life that his decision to jack it all in and leave them comes as a huge relief.
But with every cathartic moment, like Charles telling his son (a perfectly priggish Joseph Radcliffe) that he bores him, Maugham paints a bleak picture of a financially traumatised society in which the long shadow of the Great War separates parents and children in mutual resentment.
The inheritance of loss chimes most timelessly here, funnelled into bitterly funny comedy. The superb Ian Targett’s Charles is a feverishly re-energised figure, laying bare the misery of the daily grind in discomfortingly familiar terms.
The final act ends with some overly episodic one-on-one encounters, but Auriol Smith’s polished production does justice to an enjoyable and deceptively provocative play, with plenty to say today. Tom Wicker