You’ll be talking about it afterwards…

By Caitlin McGrane

Harold Pinter’s seminal and affecting play Betrayal transports the audience back to London in the 1970s, a time historically associated with sexual liberation and experimentation. Emma (Alison Bell) and Jerry (Nathan O’Keefe) have had an affair for seven years; they have a flat where they meet on afternoons to escape from their spouses and families. While Jerry’s wife is only ever alluded to, Emma’s husband Robert (Mark Saturno) is Jerry’s best friend and plays second fiddle to Emma and Jerry while they conduct their illicit affair.

Betrayal. Photo by Shane Reid

Emma’s marriage is clearly violent and unhappy, and while the script is tight and trimmed of all fat, it is a crying shame that Robert gets all the best lines. To Saturno’s credit he delivers the lines extremely well, but it is still jarring for a character so repugnant to be so well received. Bell shines as Emma, lending an often-needed lightness to a woman troubled and conflicted. Pinter is known for his silences, and Bell was fearless letting them hang over the audience. I also enjoyed O’Keefe as the spineless Jerry whose selfishness regarding Emma is matched only by Robert’s concern about her as his possession. I walked away from the theatre reminded once again of the astonishing selfish fragility of the male ego: I want to go for drinks with Emma and roll our eyes at men’s ridiculous desire to control and subjugate women; I’d like to watch a spin-off about Emma and what she did without Robert.

Director Geordie Brookman and lighting and set designer Geoff Cobham have constructed a mis en scene that evokes the spirit of the time, with scene changes taking place like a record; nearly all costume changes occur on stage, the actors seeming to choose their clothes from a rotating rack, which was a novel and interesting way of showing Emma and Jerry’s intimacy. The soundtrack, composed by Jason Sweeney, is harsh yet strangely effective at reflecting the mood of each scene.

In all, Betrayal was an excellent way to spend Saturday night, and I would highly recommend seeing it then dissecting it over wine with friends. Betrayal is showing at MTC’s Southbank Theatre until 3 October 2015. Tickets available here:

Image by Shane Reid