John O’Brien has reviewed “Betrayal” by Harold Pinter currently showing at the Harold Pinter Theatre:-
First off I should declare that Charlie Cox is my wife’s cousin. So caveat emptor or reader beware. This production of “Betrayal”, Harold Pinter’s 1978 play about his extramarital affair with Joan Bakewell, the so called “thinking man’s crumpet”, is so compelling a portrayal of “Betrayal” that I am convinced that it will come to be seen as definitive. The direction from Jamie Lloyd is crisp, clean and clear.
Wisely he refuses the temptation to break for an interval and instead creates tension and momentum in a single flow of uninterrupted and sharply focused dramatic energy. This tight and tense experience is further compounded by the spartan set, comprising two wooden chairs, a table and a revolving stage. Such minimalism forces us to focus on the faces not the furniture. More Beckett less Ibsen. The revolving set is a master stroke. Again and again it traps these three people in ever decreasing circles. Iris Murdoch said that being on the circle line reminded her of purgatory, well the revolving stage in “Betrayal” evokes feelings of bewilderment, bafflement and befuddlement amongst the Hampstead set of authors, actors and agents. Carry on up the Heath meets Primrose down the hill.
Betrayal in this play works on many levels. Most obviously in the sense of martial betrayal. Emma (Zawe Ashton) and Jerry (Charlie Cox) have been meeting in the afternoons for the past five years in their flat in Kilburn for sex. For Jerry this is a double betrayal because Emma’s husband Robert (Tom Hiddleston) is his best friend and although we never meet her, Judith – busy working as a doctor at the Royal Free Hospital and Charlie’s wife is being betrayed by all three. And the deceptions just go on and on. Emma has confessed to Robert about the affair four years ago. Charlie thinks he only found out yesterday and to cap it all Robert has been cheating on Emma for years. All in all it is a bleak and dispiriting portrait of the consequences of playing away. Read alongside Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and it’s enough to put anyone off adultery for life.
The acting is superb. The chemistry that these three emotionally sensitive and attuned actors generate is nothing short of sensational. “Betrayal” is the ultimate exploration of the eternal triangle and Hiddleston, Ashton and Cox have found a mix that is so flexible, subtle and expressive that it reaches beyond the here and now to explore the human condition at its most poignant and painful.
Buy, beg, blag, borrow or bluff a ticket. This is the portrayal of Betrayal.