Honestly, the motivating factor for going to see ‘Betrayal’ was the chance to see Charlie Cox on stage given how much I loved him in ‘Daredevil’. I knew very little about Harold Pinter aside from his formidable reputation, the phrase ‘Pinteresque Pause’ and that he wrote a famous play called ‘The Caretaker’.

‘Betrayal’ is essentially a 3-hander (with a couple of very brief appearances from two other characters) where the three actors remain on stage for the 90 min duration of the play regardless of whether they’re in the scene or not. The story involves the affair between Emma (Zawe Ashton), wife of Robert (Tom Hiddleston), and Jerry (Charlie Cox), Robert’s best friend.

Told in reverse, the play opens with Emma and Jerry meeting up for the first time a couple of years after the end of their affair, the dialogue between them is beautifully naturalistic and awkward. The genius of the dialogue at this point is gradually and increasingly highlighted as the play goes on to chart various key points and then to culminate in the very beginning of the affair.

It sounds like a very simple story but without being mundane, it portrays very human, relatable emotions and situations. The technique to tell the story in reverse sounded daunting and at first I worried that it would be left to the audience to realise that one scene was chronologically before another but in this production, this was subtly projected above and below the stage. However, the audience does have some work to do in remembering where characters were emotionally and in their knowledge of events. It’s only towards the end that you fully appreciate the genius of this, at the time, ground-breaking way of telling the story as the betrayals deepen throughout and culminate in a heart-breaking and subtle gut-punch of a simple gesture.

Often, the scenes focus on just two of the three characters at any one time, with the remaining character lurking to the side or the back of the stage. Their presence is always there, for the audience and for the other characters. Only once did I see a flicker of interaction between the out-of-scene character and one of the in-scene characters and being so perfectly timed (I can’t express how well that was timed) it really felt devastating.

The staging is minimal in terms of actual things on the stage, aside from a couple of chairs, a table and some glasses;  the actors move and are moved round occasionally using the two parts of the central revolving stage.  What I found most effective was the use of light in this production; as the characters interact, shadows are cast at the back from a low light at the front positioning the characters almost metaphorically differently to where they literally are.

Tom, Zawe & Charlie are phenomenal in this; the focus and discipline this quiet, subtle, thoughtful piece requires really made me appreciate the skill of these three great actors.

I should also mention the use of sound; throughout most of the play there are some periods of incidental music as well as a beautiful version of Depeche Modes’ ‘Enjoy the Silence’ that punctuates a few moments towards the second half. However, it is the silences, those Pinteresque pauses, that are utter genius. This piece captivated the audience so much that despite it being coughing season (the end of the winter cold and the start of hay fever), you could hear a proverbial pin drop.

StoryHarold Pinter
CastTom Hiddleson, as Robert
Zawe Ashton, as Emma
Charlie Cox, as Jerry
DirectorJamie Lloyd
TheatreHarold Pinter Theatre
Date24 May 2019

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