Twenty years after it's premiere Harold Pinter's Betrayal returns to the National with a new production directed by Trevor Nunn.
The story concerns a triangular relationship in which a man has an affair with his best friend's wife. The affair which covers a period of eleven years works backwards! The first two scenes take place in 1998, a few years after the affair had finished. The seven scens that follow move from 1996 to 1995 to 1992, down to 1989. This may sound as if it would complicate clarity but it does not. In fact, it not only works very well but it adds dimension. to this clever play. As the various acts of betrayal unfold, you become increasingly intrigued. The story of an affair may not sound as if it covers new ground, but Pinter manages to give the familiar situation unexpected twists that reveal the suffering caused by individual acts of betrayal.
Trevor Nunn has beautifully controlled Betrayal's emotional pitch. The cast is first rate. The talented and beautiful Imogen Stubbs (who has just finished playing Sally in Closer) is a sensitive and warm Emma.. Anthony Calf who had a long run in the West End in < displays an even wider range of talents as Robert, Emma's easy-going, emotionless husband. (Editor's Note: See our review of I> My Night With Reg during its brief New York run with the New Group). Douglas Hodge is wonderfully cast as Jerry , Robert's best friend and Emma's lover. His previous experience with Pinter (he's played in No Man's Land, Moonlight, The Collection and The Lover) is evident. He perfectly captures Jerry's gradually mounting pain..
This revival has received mixed reviews from the popular press. Benedict Nightingale of The Times praised it as follows: "I don't think there is a line that does not express pain, regret, anger, alarm, desire, remorse or some blend of those emotions. Can you name a play that says so little and implies so much? No, I thought not" Charles Spencer of The Daily Telegraph found it "An enthralling production of an indisputably great play." Rounding out the thumbs up reviews there was John Peter of The Sunday Times who declared, "Pinter's haunting play, and this superlative production, are painful because you know that there is no clear or easy answer. Great writing does not betray." Among the naysayers were Alaister Macaulay of The Financial Times who felt the chemistry between the three characters did not ring true and Jane Edwardes of The Times who described it as a "Hit and miss production."
Pinter who is considered difficult and thus often an acquired taste is here in his least complex mood. All things considered, it's well worth a visit to the Lyttleton.
(Reviewed 9th Dec 1998)
11/14/98-4/99; opening 11/24/98
Lyttleton- Royal National Theatre
Page © Elyse Sommer, December 1998
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