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Betrayal

Harold Pinter

17 - 25 March 2018

Peter Wellby

‘Betrayal is an exquisite play, brilliantly simple in form and courageous in its search for a poetry that turns betrayal into melancholy beauty.’ - The Guardian


Performances

Sat 7:45pm, Mon 7:45pm, Tue 7:45pm, Wed 7:45pm, Thu 7:45pm, Fri 7:45pm, Sat 2:45pm, Sat 7:45pm

Synopsis

Betrayal, a riveting play, as taut as anything Pinter wrote, is unique in being largely autobiographical. It has a small cast which enables a needle-sharp focus on the changing relationships of the three protagonists, with no peripheral distractions.

Betrayal deals with the seven-year affair that Pinter had with Joan Bakewell, while he was still married to Vivien Merchant and before he married Antonia Fraser. Joan Bakewell has testified to her shock at reading the script, shortly before the play was due to open, and to discover quite how closely it followed the details of their actual affair.

Any who may have found Pinter difficult to engage with in the past will have no difficulty with this play. It will resonate in terms of the small treacheries of our daily relationships, as well as catching chillingly the greater betrayals of life.

The seven scenes retrace the affair but in reverse order, starting two years after the affair finished and ending with the first declaration of passion. This enables Pinter to play on the ironies and betrayals involved in the affair, icily dissecting the distortions and self-deceptions involved in such dishonesty. The betrayals are multi-faceted: as well as both husbands and one wife betraying each other - the two men are best friends and one was the other’s best man - they betray themselves and their better natures and create smoke-screens to conceal their dishonesties from themselves. The two men work in the publishing world, but have moved from a youthful idealism and love of literature to a cynical counting of success in terms of book sales and income.

The play is a huge challenge to actors and director, in that Pinter’s spare but perfectly heard dialogue is, though far from lyrical, as near a piece of music as you will hear onstage. Thus not merely do the lines have to be precise, but so do the even-more-important silences and gestures and movements. A comma missed, or a pause held too long or short, would ring as false as a modern idiom inserted into a Shakespeare play. A Pinter play requires acting of the highest quality. The dialogue seems deceptively simple, but it is the art that conceals art.

Harold Pinter is one of only three British Nobel Literature Laureates (of whom there are fourteen) to have been born in Britain. His best-known plays include The Caretaker, The Birthday Party and No Man’s Land. He wrote the screenplays for The Servant, The Go-Between, The French Lieutenant’s Woman and Sleuth, as well as for three of his own plays, including a superb film of Betrayal.

‘Betrayal has long struck me as the greatest, and the most moving, of all Pinter’s plays. There are moments of tenderness and emotional truth here unmatched anywhere else in his work, as well as a bracing wit.’ - The Telegraph

It often seems Pinter is more highly regarded abroad than in Britain, perhaps because of his political views which so often questioned the establishment and the status-quo. In France, more open to radical ideas, he was presented with the Legion d’Honneur.

Audition

Audition Sat 21 October 2017 10:30am foyer

Characters

Jerry (40-31) Jerry is the least sophisticated of the protagonists. After his initiation of the affair, he is caught up by the current of events and worn down by the corroding effect of the passing years and betrayals. He understands far less what is going on and is less devious or subtle than either of the others. He lives more on the surface of life and is frequently ambushed by events. He is attractive and boyish but superficial and in some ways the least guilty. (It is interesting that Pinter chose so to portray the character who plays Pinter’s role in the actual affair).

Emma (38-29) Emma is the most complex and the toughest of the three, though on the surface Robert appears so. She is full of shifting emotions and less concerned with the power-plays than with emerging with the best that can be salvaged. When she discovers that her husband, who has made her suffer for her adultery, is himself a multiple adulterer, she turns her face to the practicalities of the future rather than sentimentalising about the past, though she is tender and passionate too.

Robert (40-31) Robert is the most powerful and the most ruthless of the three. He enjoys playing with Emma and Jerry in a sardonic and detached manner, but there are more than suggestions that he adopts this mask to protect himself from getting hurt. He is the least sympathetic of the three, but also the most enigmatic. In the triangular dance in which they engage he is the ring-master. The game of squash becomes the emotional equivalent of the cooker in ‘The Caretaker’, laden with significance and symbolism, a masculine area from which women are rigorously excluded and those who are not playing regularly are somehow emasculated.

Waiter (any) An Italian waiter with a very small part in one scene.

Audition pieces

Jerry and Emma Pps 15-20, from Jerry: ‘I hear you’re seeing a bit of Casey’ to Jerry: ’I’m happy to see you. I am. I’m sorry…about…’

Jerry and Robert Pps 25-33, from Jerry: ‘I must speak to you. It’s important’ to Robert: ‘No, you didn’t know very much about anything, really, did you?’

Jerry and Emma Pps 40-44, from Jerry: ‘Well, things have changed…’ to Jerry: ‘There are no children here, so it’s not the same kind of home.’

Robert, Jerry and Emma (P 52) Pps 49-57, from Robert: ‘They say boys are worse than girls..’ to Jerry: ‘I haven’t played squash for years.’

Robert and Emma Pps 64-73, from Robert: ‘By the way, I went into American Express yesterday..’ to Robert: ‘Tell me, are you looking forward to our trip to Torchello?’

Robert and Jerry Pps 93-100, from Robert: ‘I went for a trip to Torchello’.. to Robert: ‘She’d love to see you.’