Betrayal

Harold Pinter
Duchess Theatre
(2003)

Sir Peter Hall directed the first production of this play in 1978. He has lost none of his power with Pinter in this tremendous revival transferring into London from the Bath Festival.

In particular, Janie Dee is outstanding as Emma, the character that has recently been revealed as a thinly-disguised portrait of Pinter's lover of the time, Joan Bakewell.

Sir Peter is very patient, extending pauses and thus drawing out much humour from Pinter's script. The play is very much like a musical trio with repetitions and variations, pauses and interplay between pairings. It even includes breaks to allow the audience to cough.

The deceptively simple plot, a literary agent, played by Hugo Speer, having a seven year affair with his best friend's beautiful and highly intellectual wife, gains great depth from moving backwards in time. The betrayal of the title runs across all three of them and, ultimately, Aden Gillet's rather lightweight lover feels as hard done by as the man whose wife he has borrowed rather than stolen.

John Gunter has designed a deeply symbolic set with little in the foreground but the piled up detritus of seven years' affair framed behind the actors, always subtly lit by Peter Mumford.

There are tiny moments of great beauty generally at the end of scenes and always involving a pained Miss Dee, already a multiple award-winner for her performance in Alan Ayckbourn's Comic Potential. These culminate in a poignant freeze frame that both ends and starts the action. Hugo Speer is also strong as her seemingly uncaring but actually cruel husband, Robert.

This is an excellent, moving production of possibly Pinter's most accessible play and is strongly recommended even to those who are wary of his work.

This review originally appeared on Theatreworld in a slightly different version

Reviewer: Philip Fisher