Circa Theatre
Jan 24-Feb 21 | Reviewed by Helen Sims

Betrayal is arguably the most accessible of Pinter’s works. Emma betrays her husband, Robert, a publisher, by conducting a seven-year affair with his best friend, Jerry, a literary agent. Although the plot is seemingly simple, it is told (mostly) in reverse – beginning with a meeting between Emma and Jerry several years after their affair has ended, and ending with the beginning of the affair (although who knows how long the feelings have been latent within them). Its themes become both clear and complex due to the retrospective construction – love, lust, memory, and of course, betrayal. Pinter ruthlessly pursues the point at which love begins to end – and the deceit begins.

The cast is good, especially Jason Whyte, who gives a master class in repressed feeling as Robert. Toby Leach manages to overcome the hindrance of being on crutches, and even uses it to brilliant comic effect in the final scene. Danielle Mason conveys the emotional vapidity of Emma well, despite employing a grating accent. The trio capture the comedy of the script well, and manage not to make the ‘Pinteresque’ dialogue seem laboured.

The set, designed by John Hodkins, serves the different settings well, offering at least four different spaces to function as a pub, flat, house, hotel and restaurant. Other design elements were not as strong – it got inexplicably dark rather quickly in 1975 (was there an eclipse?) and the costumes seem to be chosen more for being generically 70s looking rather than for being appropriate to the character. I disliked the bells and whistles added to this production – the AV design and between scene music were largely unnecessary for a play as well crafted as this, not to mention incongruous with the time period of the play. The danger of backfiring technology was illustrated on opening night when the dates shown by projection came up out of order. I’m never a fan of being ‘led’ as an audience member – there is plenty in the script for me to realise that we are now witnessing an event in the past – from the previous scenes you can place it in time. The show was pretty much undone finally for me by the cheesy ending – it would have been far more powerful to make it a still and simple connection indicating the beginning of the affair, rather than have swelling music and a spotlight closing in on the joined hands of Jerry and Emma. Pinter was the master of understatement and economy, but he could also reach emotional depths. For a self-professed Pinter fan Jolly seems not to be faithful to his idol’s aesthetic in this production.

Overall the production was strangely unaffecting. This may attributable in part to Pinter’s intention – there are many who have found this play shallow. But the production itself lacked punch. I found myself yearning for a sparer, more elegant production like those staged at Silo last year, by the Sydney Theatre Company or London’s West End. However, it is still worth going in order to see a solid production of an excellent play.