Star rating – 9/10
The Crucible has a gem on its hands in the latest adaptation of Harold Pinter’s 1978 play Betrayal. It is the story of an seven year affair, but told backwards, from the awkward meeting two years after the break up, right through to the giddy, passion of the first encounter. And this brilliant production certainly does justice to Pinter’s genius.
There are three main characters, Emma and her husband Robert, along with Jerry, who is Robert’s best friend and with whom Emma has the affair. It is in part an autobiographical play, being based as it is on Pinter’s own affair with Joan Bakewell. And here Jerry’s wife Judith, who in the real life version was actress Vivien Merchant, stays firmly in the background. John Simm is Jerry, Ruth Gemmell plays Emma, and Colin Tierney her husband Robert. Although Simm has garnered all the headlines due to his celebrity, all three actors absolutely nail their brittle and fraught roles to perfection.
It is a one act play, as surely an interval would break its spell with half time speculation, and it has famous long pauses that, if handled incorrectly, could feel stilted. They are not even noticeable here, as the audiences’ hearts beat faster with those of the characters. It is mark of the talent of Pinter to tell the tale backwards, so the audience have all the information at the start, or at least they assume they do. His taut, sparse writing charges every line, every word with a particular purpose and meaning.
The staging really evokes the period of the 1970’s, and the clever sets, with just a suggestion of each scene’s surroundings, are very clever. This is spellbindingly good stuff, with the audience witness to the unreliable narrators as the significance of each lie, and action is revealed.
Who is betrayed? Well, all of them really, except Jerry, who is has to be said does most of the betraying. And the child on the poster adds a touch of added poignancy, hinting at the families in the background who were collateral damage . And you might be forgiven for thinking the Joan Bakewell and Vivien Merchant were also betrayed by the very writing of the play. But I’m very glad Pinter did write it. As I filed out with the audience to the strains of Tom Jones’ Any day now, the action replayed in my mind all over again, and the brilliance of what I had just watched hit me like a train. Simm didn’t get fantastic reviews for his Hamlet here recently, he should get absolutely rave ones for Betrayal – it is masterfully done, by him and his fellow actors alike.