Betrayal tells the tale of a covert romance from a reverse perspective. Rather than showing a couple falling in and out of love, it shows them falling out of love and back in again, charting the course of a seven-year affair from 1977 to 1968, with a backward glance at life’s little ironies.
The casting of Tom Hiddleston as Robert is enough to guarantee a full house and the award-winning star’s charismatic presence illuminates, rather than dominates, Harold Pinter’s masterpiece, as the balance constantly shifts between a trio of characters. While any two of them are deep in conversation, the third remains on stage, reduced to a spare part, silently skulking on the sidelines.
Robert’s wife Emma (Zawe Ashton) and his best friend Jerry (Charlie Cox) form the other two sides of the triangle, making this a double betrayal of both marriage and friendship. Robert, who has also cheated on Emma, continues his friendship with Jerry after he learns about their affair, in a passive-aggressive form of power play. There are no clear-cut victims or villains in this emotional landscape of grey areas and muddied waters.
Woven into this web of deceit and half-truths, the characters create their own individual narratives, captured in a series of blurred snapshots. Memory is malleable and one person’s recollection can differ from another’s. Sharing a memory of a defining moment of happy families, when Jerry picked up Emma’s daughter and held her aloft, the two lovers can’t agree on where it took place.
The theme of wheels within wheels is underlined by a revolving stage, upon which the players strike a pose as it turns like a merry-go-round. The minimalist staging comprises little more than a few chairs, a table and at one point, a tablecloth, adding an element of comic absurdity. The actors are sometimes silhouetted on stage, creating a shadow puppet show, a device used most effectively in a restaurant scene, which provides a little light relief from the emotional intensity building over 90 minutes with no interval.
In carefully crafted reverse chronology, the final scene shows Jerry and Emma sharing a first kiss and hastily parting as Robert walks in on them, and the action comes full circle, as the spark that ignites the affair draws the play to a close.
To complete the Pinter at the Pinter season, the Jamie Lloyd Company has chosen a play which showcases the playwright at the pinnacle of his powers. Certain aspects of his earlier work fall into place and find their highest expression here: conflicting accounts, the subjectivity of memory, and the tricks time plays on us.
Review by Angela Lord
With poetic precision, rich humour and an extraordinary emotional force, Betrayal charts a compelling seven-year romance, thrillingly captured in reverse chronological order. The complexities of the human heart are explored in this, “the greatest, and the most moving, of all Pinter’s plays” (The Daily Telegraph).
Zawe Ashton and Charlie Cox, join Golden Globe, Olivier and Evening Standard Award winner Tom Hiddleston in The Jamie Lloyd Company production of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal at the Harold Pinter Theatre from 5 March 2019 (press night 13 March) for a strictly limited season ending on 1 June.
Directed by Jamie Lloyd, the production forms the culmination of the historic Pinter at the Pinter season.
Betrayal is presented by The Jamie Lloyd Company, ATG Productions, Ben Lowy Productions, Gavin Kalin Productions and Glass Half Full Productions.
BETRAYAL by Harold Pinter
Harold Pinter Theatre
Panton Street, London, SW1Y 4DN