Director Jamie Lloyd’s production of Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal” is Pinter perfect. To be precise, it’s not just a perfect dramatization of Pinter text, it’s also Pinter pure in its production concept, mis-en-scene and feel. (With all respect to the genius career of Mike Nichols, it makes the last revival on Broadway in 2013 not Pinter at all.)
With superb direction, Mr. Lloyd reveals the essence of Pinter in every aspect of this defining production. The triangle of Robert (Tim Huddleston) husband to Emma (Zawe Ashton) and Emma’s lover and Robert’s best friend, Jerry (Charlie Cox) is astonishing triptych of performance, especially the men. If I were to quibble with any aspect of this production, it might be that Ms. Ashton’s Emma is a tad too stylized; it may well be that performances of Mr. Huddleston and Mr. Cox are just too extraordinary in how natural they are.
Director Lloyd plays magic with Pinter’s story which covers ten years in chronological reverse -it starts two years after Emma and Jerry’s affair ends. This “Betrayal” transacts like how imperfect memory works; sometimes details assume enormous clarity, other times only a mood or feeling can be recalled. Emma and Jerry remember Jerry tossing Emma’s young daughter in the air at a party but they can’t agree at who’s house.
Soutra Gilmour’s set design and John Clark’s lighting are as starkly subdued as Pinter’s prose. The minimalist set reflects the passage of time; sometimes the backdrop moves forward to shrink the stage, sometimes a revolving part of the stage moves the trio in different configurations slowly around each other. The only consistent props are two chairs: in this trio somebody is always left out. Lloyd leaves the odd-man-out on stage, standing alone as silent sentry to the tragedy unfolding, as mute witness to memories past.
Lloyd’s impeccable pacing mirrors the rhythms in Pinter’s dialogue. The Pinter pauses are still there, but, in effect, disappear. The silences fill in what the characters are thinking regardless of what they are saying; truth is one thing, honesty something else.
The term seamless gets applied promiscuously in a lot of theatre reviews; here it really applies. Still, several scenes stand out. Robert lunches with best friend Jerry, with the new knowledge Jerry is having an affair with Emma. The acting is so good, we get inside Jerry's head, wondering IF Robert might - just might – have a clue. At another crucial turn, Robert, while on vacation with Emma, discovers a letter she receives from Jerry and intuits immediately its import. When Robert approaches Emma about it, the performances are so exact we get inside Emma’s head knowing he knows, even before the scene plays out. Nuance prevails.
Every single element of this “Betrayal” is coherent with and integral to its whole. The last scene begins with the start of Emma and Jerry’s affair. Emma’s very last, minute gesture makes Pinter plain that neither being betrayed nor betraying can get undone.
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