Paul Johnson | 03 Jun 2015 16:31pm
First seen on the London stage in 1978 Harold Pinter’s ‘Betrayal’ was not a run-away hit. Loosely based on his own long standing affair with Joan Bakewell, this fairly straightforward tale of middle class adultery had little of Pinter’s underlying menace and far fewer of the lengthy pauses that we have come to know and love. However, in many ways this play is one of Pinter’s greatest masterpieces, with its clever anti-clockwise retelling of a love affair, moving backwards from its uncomfortable ending to its drunken beginning.
Pinter’s play looks at betrayal in more ways than just the adulterous relationship between wife and lover. As the play progresses there are layer upon layer of betrayals: between husband and wife, lovers and best friends, as the characters deal with the fluctuating balance of power in a three-sided relationship and with the unhappiness of loss. As an audience we are privileged to see the scenes unfold from three different perspectives as each character presents his or her version of the events that take place.
Set in a whole series of different locations, many of which have a large double bed as the central piece of furniture provides a challenge. I found the scene changes a little slow and wondered whether leaving more of the furniture on the stage, particularly the bed, and using stronger lighting to create different areas might have led to slightly smoother transitions between scenes. In addition the sudden blackouts followed very closely by bringing up working lights was all too quick and did not really give the audience time to assimilate the way they felt, often about a particularly seminal moment which was frequently quite pivotal to the story. Having said that the stage crew moved efficiently around the space, placing the props and furniture as quickly as possible and this clearly also provided an opportunity for the characters to change costume as the play gradually moved back through the years.
Jane O’Hanlon’s co-ordination of the costumes worked very effectively, the characters alternating between casual and smart and the various hair styles, from rumpled to slicked back helping create a practical sense of time changing.
Although essentially a three hander there was a small cameo role of an amusing Italian waiter played superbly by Matthew Lyne, who added humour and some slightly lighter moments to what is in essence quite an intense play. The other three actors, however, had the responsibility of exploring the timeless themes of emotional destruction and the ruthless consequences of betrayal.
Steve Anstee, played Robert, a successful publisher whose wife Emma conducts a seven year affair with his best friend Jerry. Constantly sardonic in the way that he presents the character the audience is left wondering about what his feelings really are. There is almost an element of menace in the way he constantly brings up the idea of having a game of squash – clearly something that would provide the opportunity to release the pent up frustration of the knowledge of his friend’s behaviour. The curt way he rejected Emma’s suggestion to join them seemed almost like a physical attack, a feeling furthered by memories of the line earlier about the fact that he had occasionally hit his wife, leaving us very uncomfortable with this character who constantly masks his feelings. Anstee managed to create the feeling of scornful distain over his friends constant excuses for not playing which was counterbalanced with moments of exceptional poignancy for example when he discovers by accident that his wife is being unfaithful whilst on a romantic break in Venice, facing away from her looking out of an imaginary window as she reads a novel by the latest ‘discovery’ of her lover. This central moment in the couple’s relationship is perhaps the scene that stood out for me the most.
Jerry is perhaps the character who appears to be most affected by guilt and this was clearly shown in Daniel Kelly’s performance. A literary agent who has regular business lunches with his best friend he never seems to quite let go of his attachment to Emma. As the character who initiated the relationship we see the lingering jealousy as he recognises that she has moved on and is now having an affair with one of this writers. Kelly played the role with an engaging boyish charm which contrasted well with the moments of angst as he remembers his wife and children who we never meet but only hear about. He appeared suitably uncomfortable in the opening scene, but then steadily became more angst ridden as he recognised that his best friend had not told him of either his affairs or that he had known of Jerry’s affair with his wife for many years. Kelly managed to show clearly a man who was losing his bearings as things he had taken for granted were being eroded and as he developed a growing awareness of the depth of betrayals that had taken place over the past seven years.
Emma is perhaps the toughest character of the three, particularly evident in the opening scene where despite arranging to see Jerry after a two year gap to discuss the breakdown of her marriage, she is already well into another affair. She has the confident appearance of a survivor. Despite the somewhat stilted manners they both adopt it is Jerry who downs his drink and uses it as an excuse to escape for a few moments while he replenishes the glasses. Emma is a needy character and this came across well in Victoria Arter-Furlon’s presentation. In the scenes with Jerry she appeared deliberately stiff, slightly mannered and buttoned up – almost more interested in home making than love making in the little flat in Kilburn. Whilst in the scenes with her husband there is a more natural response – sitting alongside him on the sofa and turning to him for comfort when Jerry announces his trip to New York. The scene where she returns the key was particularly memorable with her frustration at not being able to remove the key from the ring and the frustration of it delaying her walking out of the flat and out of the relationship. Her pent up feelings and desire to have the last word worked well alongside the sadness on the face of the lover she was abandoning to dispose of the items that she remembered buying together whilst his memory was that the flat was ready furnished.
One of the things that makes this play so interesting to watch is the knowledge that the audience has of where the story has gone as we see how the characters arrived there. Through language that is concentrated and expressing only the essential we are given a realistic presentation of a world inhabited by middle class families who fail to have any clear moral delineation in their lives. However, despite the betrayals that take place there is much tenderness and humour in the play and the director Mark Ireson, managed to encapsulate this, helped by some extremely talented actors. This production was intelligently directed and well-paced and runs until Saturday June 6th
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- : 02/06/2015