Theatre Review: Betrayal


Carla Mercer reviews the London Classic Theatre’s adaptation of one of Harold Pinter’s most famous and notorious works.

The London Classic Theatre recently brought Harold Pinter’s classic tale of love, jealousy and Venetian shenanigans to Canterbury. The play told the story of the affair between Pinter and Joan Bakewell, whose husband Michael worked with Pinter professionally in the world of 1960s broadcasting. The narrative was reversed so that one found the affair done and dusted at the beginning, and inebriated yet sexually charged at the end. As one found the characters more and more repulsive they seemed to get more innocent, but for the lovers, the crucial decision was made just before the curtain fell.

The audience enjoyed the awkward humour right from the start. As the ex-lovers – Emma and her husband’s best friend Jerry – sat together in the first scene, trying to fill the hole between nostalgia for a rose-spectacled past and an uncomfortable lack of chemistry in the present, the tension was easy to read.

It is often commented how very ‘accessible’ this play is, and one can understand why it has been labelled so, but it also retains some mystique in its refusal to caricature the players.

Throughout the night, Emma, Jerry and Robert, Emma’s husband who knew about the affair between his Best Man and his wife for the last four years of the betrayal, were very believable and all had their share of the golden lines of wit. Jerry was witless at times and a winner at others, Robert was ambiguously cold at heart and yet remained sympathetic, and Emma never descended to a backward representation of a conniving cheat nor to a flighty, irrational flower-petal being thrown hither and thither.

The lighting was beautiful, particularly poignant at the end of the play when the lovers first fall for each other, and the period costumes were eclectic and colourful. At times – for example when Robert came across as particularly aggressive and manipulative and Emma was particularly soft – their costume seemed to symbolise something of the power struggles taking place.

As much as one bought into the idea of the affair and its repercussions, and as much as one believed in the characters and their ability to forget their empathy for the sake of sex, every now and then there appeared something slightly amiss in the timing. There were points in the play where it seemed as though deliberate choices had been made with timing which let down the potential of the lines. For example when Jerry and Robert discussed the way that babies respond to being taken out of the womb by crying and the way that boys do so more than girls.

There are several lines here where, if timed a certain way, the dramatic irony that has been accrued up to this point in the play can be played with, so as to confuse the audience further at the same time as making the lines funnier. However, this was only apparent once or twice in the play and the overall effect of the character development (or de-development, as the characters are getting younger) was one of warming to them so much so that the moment when Jerry and Emma first kissed seemed like the typical climax of a romantic story.

As the characters became less dirtied by their sins and knew less about each other’s capacity to betray and deceive, so they seemed cleansed. The final scene was able to highlight the futility of judging Jerry and Emma for their infidelity.

The play is currently on tour and dates are available on the London Classic Theatre’s website.


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