As his writing matured, Harold Pinter complemented his mesmerising technique with greater concern for his characters. Betrayal is an excellent example of this development, opening after the conclusion of an adulterous love affair and rewinding through key events in the relationship.
Jerry (Steven Clarke) has an affair with Emma (Rebecca Pownall) the wife of his best friend Robert (Pete Collis). Jerry worries about how his friendship with Robert will be affected when, some time after the affair ends, Emma reveals that she has confessed her infidelity to Robert. Jerry needn't be concerned, as Robert casually acknowledges he was aware of the affair even as it was progressing.
The disquieting mood, which director Michael Cabot sets for the play, captures perfectly the uncomfortable revelations of the script. The silences for which Pinter is famous are here used to create an intimate sense of embarrassment between the characters. Cabot does not lighten the mood; we are made aware of changes in scene and time not by using, say, music from the period, but by stark announcements.
Even the changes in props are undertaken in icy silence. There is a strong sense of corruption in the play; although the characters are prosperous, Bek Palmer's set drops them amongst sections of shabby buildings that have fallen into disrepair.
By the time the action rewinds to the passionate start of the affair, we are all too aware of the corrosive effect it will have on the characters. This is mainly captured in the performances of Pownall and Collis. Clarke plays Jerry as a constant egoist throughout the play; self-satisfied and confident in his own powers of deception, only when he becomes aware that the affair is no longer secret does he show any confusion that the conventions of betrayal might have been reversed.
Pownall gives a very human performance of someone mature enough to bring the affair to a close and to show a degree of repentance for her actions. Collis offers a particularly fine interpretation showing the development of Robert's defensive reactions to shield himself from the pain of his wife's unfaithfulness. Starting with heavy drinking and moving onto possible physical abuse of his wife, before settling on a crude sarcasm and apparent indifference, showing how far Robert has descended from being someone who loved poetry.
An excellent and suitably unsettling show from the London Classic Theatre.
- Dave Cunningham