Paul T Davies reviews Harold Pinter’s Betrayal starring Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Cox and Zawe Ashton now playing at the Harold Pinter Theatre.
Considered to be Pinter’s most personal work, and famous for telling the revealing of an extra marital love affair in reverse chronological order, The Jamie Lloyd Company’s production of Betrayal brings the Pinter at the Pinter season to a triumphant conclusion. I always thought it was too cool a play about middle class, literati angst, but the scales fell from my eyes watching this exquisitely acted production where, more than anything, it’s the space between the lines, the pauses, the silences, when the acting soars with heartbreak. It helps that a trio of sublime actors takes us through the devastation of betrayal; we pick up the pieces as they do as the story goes backwards. It begins at the end of it all, and ends at the beginning of it all.
Director Jamie Lloyd now has such a profound understanding of Pinter that everything feels as if it’s playing by instinct. As Robert, Tom Hiddleston is a searing portrayal of pain. Much of the action, on Soutra Gilmour’s minimalist set, takes place far downstage, almost on the edge. It’s impossible to avoid the pain in his eyes. Yet Pinter has him admit he has hit his wife Emma, “when he needed to”, and she reveals that Robert has also been unfaithful to her, triggering the final end of their marriage. How are we supposed to perceive this news? Is it all part of the macho swaggering he performs with Jerry? All three remain onstage throughout, and the presence of a character when the other two are talking about them is brutal, but leads to gorgeous exchanges of looks that underline the complexity of love and betrayal, of love and happiness. Hiddlestone is emotionally astute and mesmerising.
As Emma, Zawe Ashton is totally convincing at conveying the heartbreak behind fixed smiles, and the reverse time line beautifully exposes her hopes for the affair, for another life. The lovers actually had a home and the affair lasted seven years, these are not casual fuck buddies. Completing this outstanding trio is Charlie Cox as Jerry, betraying his longest best friend, hearing lies, telling lies, almost giving away lies, yet his sorrow at being in love with his best friend’s wife complicates his duplicity. The acting is subtle and holds the audience throughout the taut ninety minutes.
There is humour in Pinter, and Eddie Arnold makes the most of his role as an Italian waiter. All three have a memory of Jerry lifting Robert and Emma’s daughter up in the air and catching her in a kitchen, and when this is enacted it’s a beautiful, sorrowful moment as we already know what happened after. Not a moment is missed in this production, and Ben and Max Ringham’s delicate sound design underscores the events beautifully.
For fans of Pinter, and maybe for people who need to be convinced by him, this season has literally been a once in a lifetime experience, with outstanding casting, design and direction. What next Jamie Lloyd? Beckett’s shorts? Churchill’s shorts? I’d love to see that!