Betrayal - National Theatre 1998

Wednesday, 9 December, 1998


The story concerns a triangular relationship involving a man who has an affair with his best friend's wife.  The story covers a period of 11 years, but what is unusual about this story is that it works backwards! It starts in 1998, a few years after the affair had finished. So from the first two scenes set in 1998, the next 7 scenes cover the years 1996, 95, 92 down to 1989.  This may seem strange and you may think this would complicate the story, but it does not. In fact it works very well, adding dimension and mystic to the play.

This clever play dealing with disloyalty will have you intrigued as the different acts of betrayal gradually unfold. This well structured script may not cover any new ground, after all affairs are nothing new, but Pinter puts in some unexpected twists that reveal the suffering that their individual acts of betrayal creates.

'Betrayal' is a bleak, sad play that deals in feelings. It is controlled beautifully by Trevor Nunn and is performed solidly by a first rate cast consisting of the talented and beautiful Imogen Stubbs (who has just finished playing 'Sally' in "Closer" at the Lyric theatre) who plays the sensitive and warm 'Emma'.

Anthony Calf is convincing as 'Robert', Emma's 'easy-going', emotionless husband.  Anthony had a long run in the West End in" My Night With Reg" both at the Royal Court and Criterion Theatre. He plays a very different character in this play, which reveals his wide-ranging talents.

Douglas Hodge, who plays 'Jerry', Robert's best friend and Emma's lover, is wonderfully cast here. He captures the changing suffering of his character perfectly. Mind you, he has had some experience with Pinter. His work with Harold Pinter includes "No Man's Land", "Moonlight",  "The Collection" and "The Lover".

Th play has received mixed reviews from the popular press. BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE, of THE TIMES says, "I don't think there is a line that does not express pain, regret, anger, alarm, desire, remorse or some blend of those emotions. Can you name a play that says so little and implies so much? No, I thought not."  CHARLES SPENCER of THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says "An enthralling production of an indisputably great play."  JOHN PETER of THE SUNDAY TIMES says "Pinter's haunting play, and this superlative production, are painful because you know that there is no clear or easy answer. Great writing does not betray."  However, ALAISTER MACAULAY of THE FINANCIAL TIMES was a little disappointed saying  "The chemistry between the three characters does not ring true here, because the three actors appear to inhabit markedly different social circles." PAUL TAYLOR of THE INDEPENDENT is not too impressed either describing the play as a  " Mildly disappointing production."  JANE EDWARDES of THE TIMES describes the play as a "Hit and miss production."

Pinter may not be everyone's cup of tea. I mean, usually he is an acquired taste! However, this is Pinter in his less complex mood and this solid production is well worth a visit to the theatre.

(Darren Dalglish)

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