Writer: Harold Pinter
Director: Michael Cabot
Reviewer: Glen Pearce
Trying to capture the essence of a Pinter play in print is notoriously difficult. As much is said in what is left unsaid as there is in the script itself. His characteristic pregnant pauses and economy of exposition requiring the audience to carry out their share of detective work.
Betrayal is a classic example of his style. Played in reverse chronological order, we follow the breakdown of an extra-marital affair before turning back the clock over nine years to see the steps that led towards it.
Michael Cabot’s production plays the piece with an economy that mirrors Pinter’s sparse wordplay, played out against the hint of a disintegrating house (an effective design from Bek Palmer), there’s nothing here to detract from the characters. No special effects, no sound effects or music, no special lighting – it’s almost Brechtian in execution.
This sparseness does require the company to invest in the characters and there is a simmering tension bubbling away beneath the surface from Rebecca Pownall, Steven Clarke and Pete Collis.
It’s a constantly shifting power struggle as Pownall’s initially controlling Emma somewhat dominates the men in her life (Clarke’s somewhat wet Jerry and Collis’ cold, detached Robert) but it becomes clear that this is a woman who has been shaped by events, not always pleasant.
Pinter’s piece works by allowing us to revel in the reveal – we know what has happened and what is about to happen but in those yearning, almost painful pauses, we never know quite how it will happen. What is real, what is fantasy and what is the single version of truth is always open to interpretation.
London Classic Theatre’s production is competent if somewhat clinical. While there is real chemistry between the three central characters the economy of staging, coupled with Pinter’s deliberate fragmentary structure, make it hard to really emotionally care about their plight. Cabot’s decision to break the piece with an interval after 45 minutes also serves only to further distance the audience.
There’s much to admire here but overall there is a feeling that this is a technical accomplishment rather than one from the heart.
Runs until 25 September and continues to tour