Harold Pinter’s plays are known for their pauses and unseen menace but this production of the semi-autobiographical piece Betrayal barely takes a breath.
Clare Howard’s direction sees us hurtle through the unfolding events – or rather, refolding events given the predominantly reverse chronology that marks out this piece.
The focus is an affair between Emma (Verity Roat) and Jerry (Steve Scase), betraying her husband and his friend Robert (John Davis), and who knew what about it when. The play opens at the aftermath – a stilted reunion some two years after the affair ended – and we then journey back, more aware than the characters of the dark import of their words.
The tight cast perform the piece with crispness and clarity, shifting between amore, anger, and apathy as their affections change through time.
These even spill out into the set changes, as the characters assist in redressing the stage with a proud folding of a treasured doily or a last, bitter swig of a glass of wine. (Assistant stage manager Robin Watson also makes a brief cameo as a changeable Italian waiter, bringing a comic touch to an otherwise loaded scene.)
Lucinda Bray’s set design puts us firmly in the 1970s, as do the musical interludes between scenes; Paul Simon’s Slip Slidin Away seemed particularly fitting.
The speed of delivery does overall lend a lighter touch than you might expect from Pinter and for me that is welcome – never being much of a fan of meaningful stares – but it does mean we lose a bit of space to contemplate the multiple levels of duplicity displayed by the characters, and also the lie of how much we think we, as the audience, really know.
- Betrayal continues at Sewell Barn Theatre, Norwich until December 3, 2022.