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Betrayal (York Theatre Royal)

Lacking the grit and grime of other Pinter works, Juliet Forster's impressive production of Betrayal remains engrossing

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In much of Harold Pinter's work there are (at least) two conversations going on simultaneously between the characters.

Mark Hesketh (Jerry) and Amanda Ryan (Emma) in Harold Pinter's Betrayal.
© Anthony Robling

There are the actual words they are speaking to each other and then there are the gaps in between, often unbearably protracted, which give the frequently sparse dialogue the depth and meaning so characteristic to the playwright and imbue his writing with so much power.

Pinter's characters are frequently unreadable, beguiling and often downright infuriating which can make the deciphering of the spaces in between their speech so enjoyable and rewarding, the possible interpretations and projections by each individual audience member are myriad.

In Juliet Forster's production of Pinter's 1978 play Betrayal, the three lead characters who make up the love triangle at the centre of the story are a little more fleshed out than typical Pinter characters. We are given much expository background detail and the inter-linking relationships between Robert (Mason Phillips), his wife Emma (Amanda Ryan) and his best friend Jerry (Mark Hesketh) are clearly drawn.

The resulting effect is that the pauses in between their spoken interactions are not as pregnant or nebulous as one might expect from Pinter's work and therefore the fun to be had filling in the gaps is not quite as rewarding as it can be in some of his other plays.

Also, other works such as The Caretaker and The Birthday Party introduce characters who are joyously spiteful, unhinged and just plain villainous. In this production, Forster presents Robert and Jerry as essentially decent chaps who happen to love the same woman, Emma, who in turn seems rather annoyingly perfect. She is educated, has managed to combine raising a family with a forging a successful career and can knock up a stew at a moment's notice. Generally speaking, everyone is, given the circumstances, remarkably civilised and affable.

Nevertheless, any Pinter is still streets ahead of most other offerings. His dialogue here still manages the impressive trick of being both economical and realistic and at the same time stylised and rich.

Forster's direction is well-paced, clean and unfussy allowing the text and the actors to shine, and all three leads are excellent. Phillips in particular catches the eye with arguably the meatiest of the roles. As the "wronged" husband he maintains outward ambivalence while only occasionally letting the anger, which must (one assumes) be coursing through him, bubble to the surface.

Dawn Allsopp's design mirrors the characters and themes of the piece, a sophisticated and elegant exterior which on closer inspection thinly masks weathered and crumbling foundations.

Although this may not be the juiciest of Pinter's plays there is still much to admire here. A confident and mature production which grips from start to finish.

Betrayal continues at York Theatre Royal until 18 October 2014.