Betrayal - 1998

Programme Cover

Betrayal, The National Theatre, The Lyttelton Theatre, London,
24 November 1998

Jerry - Douglas Hodge
Emma - Imogen Stubbs
Robert - Anthony Calf
Waiter - Arturo Venegas

Directed by Trevor Nunn

Designer - Es Devlin
Lighting Designer - Rick Fisher
Video Designer - Chris Laing
Music - Roger Eno

Review by Kate Kellaway

One of Harold Pinterís techniques in his short but never sweet play, Betrayal, is to take a verb, especially a verb such as 'to think', or 'to know' and fondle it, tease it, let it take over speech ('I think I thought you knew' etc) until our heads are echoing and 'to know' has become to mean something equivocal and dicey: not knowing enough, not knowing at all. Adultery is the perfect subject for this sort of linguistic unease, often present in Pinterís plays in less charged conditions.
Trevor Nunnís production of Betrayal is stylish, tense and disquieting. It is about a temporal triangle (love at the mercy of time and measured in years). There is a sense of something rotten but unspoken between the three main players. Is it a sense that betrayal must continue, even when confessed to?
Imogen Stubbs plays Emma, a woman stuck in a state of social grace. She is better suited to the making of love-nests than to the dismantling of them. In the last stages of her affair and after it has ended, she looks like a chic mourner. But although she wears black, she lacks Chekhovian depth. Her voice is high, elegiac, actressy (people turn into actors under strain). She has a sad, clown look which surprisingly enhances her prettiness. When she meets her ex-lover Jerry for a drink (the play's time scheme is ironically scrambled, its opening the beginning of the end), she is nervously approval-seeking. She has a no-room-at-the-inn look, her smile unable to stay anywhere. When she and Jerry were first together, she was in full flower; she wore scarlet and tourquoise and there was no need to ask, as she does now, ever more emptily, 'How are you?'
Jerry (Douglas Hodge) talks like a barrow-boy made good; he is a bit of rough to her smooth. He does not seem quite believable at first too philistine, too staccato but becomes gradually more convincing (incidentally, he looks uncannily like the young Pinter). Jerryís emotions are not for expressing, except when drunk, contemplating Emma in her turquoise sheath of a dress at the beginning of their affair.
The men seem to care more about their friendships with each other than about Emma. Robert (Anthony Calf) is the most mysterious of the three. He talks like a doctor, though his bedside manner does not reassure. He is in an Italian hotel when he discovers that Emma and Jerry have been having an affair. There is something strinkingly unnatural and alarming about the way he stands at a little distance from the fancy Florentine double bed with his arms motionless at his side. Emma is pretending to read. She trembles until her book looks like a trapped bird. He is still as a waiting cat.
There is light relief in wonderfully comic dialogue, especially where the talk is not so much small as stunted. I loved the dead-end debate about why baby boys are born anxious. Es Devlin's set consists of a conjectural house that converts to a screen against which black-and-white images run like a river. It is an unconsoling design and suits the play. Betrayal is fiercely filleted without the mercy that love between the characters might bring: adultery in X-ray.
The Observer, 29th November 1998

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