Friday, November 29, 2013

An elegant Betrayal...

Harold Pinter's Betrayal begins at the end, with the 'adulterous' couple Emma and Jerry meeting after their affair is over and her marriage has ended. Their brittle exchanges linger with an unease so infectious a woman behind me in the Merlin auditorium murmured "I think a prompter's needed." Sequential scenes told the story of their seven-year affair in reverse, showing the impact on Emma's husband Robert who is also Jerry's best friend.  Rebecca Pownall and Steven Clarke as the wayward duo and Pete Collis as the colluding husband all gave brilliant performances in this classy LCT touring production directed with razor-sharp precision by Michael Cabot.  The play looks terrific throughout, set against non-specific ruins and debris with characters hard-lit like Hockney couples, and with the same sense of emotional distance ~ I've used one of Hockney's paintings here, as the flyer image throbs with red-hot suggestiveness totally absent from the play. The love affair itself is a grey shadow of the past like the rubble around them: as audience-voyeurs we are granted no glimpses of exquisite intimacy, just key moments of destructive duplicity. The affair ends, choked with its own deceit, with not a bang but a bicker, as the story continues in retrospect, taking us on the journey of insight about which the protagonists themselves still seem oblivious. If the plot sounds dreary, the production is not: it sparkles with social-observational wit, and the absence of musical sound-track keeps a focus tightly on words ~ the said and the unsaid, the secrets, silences and lies that are Laing's knots binding these three together.

The script for Betrayal is notoriously based on Pinter's own affair with Joan Bakewell, and Jerry voices the playwright's anger at her husband's unvoiced knowledge which he saw as another, perhaps more profound, betrayal. It's inevitable to wonder in the final scene, when Emma allows Jerry to seduce her, whether his cosmic passion is expressed with lines the playwright used himself back in 1962 when everything in his world disintegrated and falling in love was "the only thing that has ever happened..." No-one who's been there would judge either the character or his creator, however forseeable the future. Superb revival, timeless masterpiece.

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