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Review Round-up: Rickson Betrayal Stays Loyal

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Harold Pinter’s Betrayal opened at the West End’s Comedy Theatre (previews from 27 May), the latest star-studded revival at the address from director Ian Rickson - his production of The Children's Hour starring Elisabeth Moss and Keira Knightley finished its extended run on 7 May 2011.

One of Pinter’s most oft-revived plays, Betrayal traces, in reverse chronological order, the seven-year affair between a literary agent and his best friend’s wife. The passionate love triangle shifts and revolves around hollow lies and multiple betrayals, from poignant end to first forbidden kiss.

Ian Rickson’s reincarnation stars Kristin Scott Thomas (Whatsonstage.com Award winner for As You Desire and Three Sisters and Olivier Award for Best Actress for The Seagull), Douglas Henshall (Death of a Salesman, The Crucible) and Ben Miles (Measure for Measure, The Norman Conquests).

The production is initially booking at the Comedy Theatre until 20 August 2011.

Michael Coveney

“Each time I see Harold Pinter’s 1978 mini-masterpiece, I feel a little older, a little sadder … Ian Rickson’s production is very good, but Jeremy Herbert’s neutral grey design, with splashes of colour for Venice, and a stained glass window in the pub, is not sufficiently clean or clinical (lots of bumping of furniture backstage), and the performance of Kristin Scott Thomas as Emma, while suitably glacial and enigmatic, with an odd vocal wobbliness, is not as serene or enchanting as Dervla Kirwan’s at the Donmar four years ago … Here, the friendship of literary agent Jerry (Douglas Henshall) and publisher Robert (Ben Miles), married to Emma, runs strong but not deep. Hatchet-jawed Miles catches the impatience and cruelty of Robert very well, and even resembles Pinter himself in his black leather jacket and brusque restaurant manners … The fleshier, more blinkered Henshall certainly conveys the hopelessness, and the humour, of his passion, and it’s all the more poignant that we see the end of the affair in the Kilburn bedsit before the beginning. In nine scenes – played over ninety minutes without an interval – we travel backwards from 1977 to 1968, with little shimmies forward on the way, the discovery of the affair and confession in the middle. Technically, the play’s a marvel, and so simple. And funny, too, with its references to the unseen despised novelists, Casey and Spinks, one of whom may or may not have replaced Jerry in the adultery stakes.”

Michael Billington

“Having rubbished Harold Pinter's Betrayal on its appearance in 1978, I seem to have spent much of my life discovering its complexities. Each production yields fresh insights. And, watching Ian Rickson's beautifully lucid and perceptive revival, I became aware how much the play deals with the shifting balance of power in triangular relationships, and with the pain of loss … What Rickson brings out is the heartache beneath the multiple infidelities ... There is a cold sadness to Kristin Scott Thomas as Emma, and a defeated solitude to Douglas Henshall as Jerry … Rickson's production gives Pinter's play an extra layer of emotional and physical reality: even the bridges between scenes, as Jeremy Herbert's ingenious set unfolds, are informative ... There is also revelation in the excellent performances: the major discovery to me was Miles's Robert … Scott Thomas uses her wonderfully expressive features to indicate all the calibrated shifts in Emma's character, in some ways, the toughest of the three; and, in the opening scene, she registers the radiant assurance of the survivor … Those who know the play well will find new meanings in this revival; and those who don't will be ushered into a world where pain and loss are explored with poetic precision.”

Paul Taylor

Kristin Scott Thomas has graced the London stage on three previous occasions – each time to indelible effect … Scott Thomas returns to the West End now in Rickson's excellent revival of Pinter's Betrayal … This is the best account that I have seen of Pinter's 1978 play ... Everything is seen in the shadow of disillusion and treachery foretold and as it flows backwards, to the pensive piano broodings of Stephen Warbecks' moody bridging music … What this revival establishes with matchless force is the controlling dominance of the husband Robert, played with a toying sadism by the excellent Ben Miles … The male pair seem to be magnetised in an intimate bully-masochist liaison, perversely sustained by the affair. Never has it been clearer that Emma gets the raw deal than here where Scott Thomas radiates a poignant adoration of Jerry. She adopts the mock-jauntiness of the insecure as she puts out feelers to see if he will change his life for her, only to subside into desolation when he fails her. A haunting performance in a terrific revival.”

Quentin Letts
Daily Mail

“This is an ungentlemanly thing to say, but Kristin Scott Thomas is too old to play the female lover in Harold Pinter's sad play Betrayal. Her character, Emma, is meant to be in her 30s … This elegant actress has undeniable stage presence. There is a composure about her, a stillness, an allure almost catlike. But how does this fit in with Emma, who starts the play aged 38 and (thanks to the reverse chronology) ends it at 29? ... Ian Rickson directs with confidence and the show is worth seeing, if Pinter's cold, loveless description of an affair is to your taste — and if you can bring yourself to ignore a pseudish programme which attacks monogamy … Ben Miles is strong as Robert. The play's best scene is a restaurant lunch when Robert fails to confront Jerry about the affair ... Miles spits out his lines, a master of controlled bitterness. Douglas Henshall's Jerry is less satisfactory. He speaks in a nasal Scots accent and seems a pretty dull dog. There is little chemistry between him and carbon-dated Emma. Betrayal has aged, too. How antique the Seventies chatter seems — far more time specific to us than Shakespeare.”

Charles Spencer

“Watching Ian Rickson’s superb new production, with a radiant Kristin Scott Thomas at the apex of the romantic triangle that also contains her husband Robert (Ben Miles) and her lover Jerry (Douglas Henshall) I found myself marvelling once again at the sheer bravura of Pinter’s play … The play’s mixture of wit and emotional truth never stales and Rickson’s production is the finest I have seen of Pinter’s masterpiece. Jeremy Herbert’s designs conjure a variety of locations with great skill and it is significant that even in the opening scene, set in a pub, we also see the bed on which the betrayal took place. And the acting is virtuously flawless throughout. Scott Thomas brings a strong charge of sexuality and an extraordinary emotional openness to the role of Emma, her beautiful face and potent body language signifying exactly what she is feeling at any given moment, from glowing love and ardent desire to guilt, fear and grief when her husband discovers their affair in a Venice hotel bedroom. As her husband, Miles bears a startling resemblance to the young Harold Pinter and brings an extraordinary quality of barely contained emotional violence to the stage, while Henshall captures both the wonder of love, and the sweaty panic of the adulterer with both humour and pathos.”

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

“As vulnerable Emma... Kristin Scott Thomas thrills. She has to impel the action - and does so handsomely ... It's a performance of great subtlety, in which she feels like both a victim and a glacial careerist. Ben Miles makes a powerful impression as Emma's husband Robert, a publisher. His manner and appearance seem modelled on those of Pinter himself. He is clipped, caustic, worldly, cruel, slightly bored, yet also wounded and excitable. But Douglas Henshall feels miscast as Robert's best friend, literary agent Jerry, the naïve man with whom Emma has a seven-year affair. His performance is tender yet limited - too resolutely anchored in bewilderment. Ian Rickson's production is lucid, and as we move from the aftermath of break-up to the ecstasy of beginning, the relationship between Emma and Jerry throws up a succession of deceptions and hollow tricks … The reversal means we're focused on the affair's terrible parabola instead of on whether it will actually develop … Yet the tautness of Pinter's writing is not well served in Rickson's production. It's finely tuned, but several scenes seem portentous rather than pregnant, and there is never a strong enough sense of emotional pain and its bruising accumulation.”

Libby Purves
The Times

“This is Pinter for people who don’t think they like Pinter... a recognisable middle-class setting and a clear reason for the menacing pauses … It reveals its multilayered emotional dishonesties in a backwards chronology, which challenges the actors to 'lose' awareness of the moods and disappointments that they have just played and become younger and less knowing with each scene. They achieve this, especially Scott Thomas … The men are nicely differentiated. Ben Miles as Robert is hard-edged, leather-jacketed and simmering with unfulfilled violence, Henshall’s Jerry a great big corduroy softie, the coward who wants to have his cake and eat it: family home and illicit flat. The latter, incidentally, is part of a nifty folding set by Jeremy Herbert that moves smoothly between scenes, sometimes splitting to show the ghostly presence of a bygone bed; care is taken to achieve authentic Kilburn-1970’s stained wallpaper. Everything is immaculate: Scott Thomas’s clothes and hair convincingly rejuvenate her as the years roll backwards, and Miles too ends up looking and moving more youthfully. Even his face softens to innocence in the final (or first) moments … And Henshall’s toshy, drunken declaration of love in 1968 is, wickedly, played as plain hilarious.”

- Matt Hannigan


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