24/01/2009 - 21/02/2009
A PASSIONATE AFFAIR. TOLD IN REVERSE
An enduring dark comedy of love and deceit, Betrayal is one of Harold Pinter’s finest plays.
Betrayal opens at Circa Theatre on Saturday 24th January at 8pm, and runs until 21 February.
Unravelling from its poignant end to its blissful first kiss, Betrayal traces a seven-year illicit affair played out in reverse.
Robert and Jerry were best friends.
Robert and Emma were married.
Jerry and Emma were lovers.
Welcome to the tangled emotional world of BETRAYAL
Passionate, funny, sexy and bristling with treachery!
Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature 2005, Harold Pinter is one of the world’s great playwrights. His plays include The Birthday Party, The Caretaker, No Man’s Land, The Homecoming and Old Times.
Harold Pinter died in London on Christmas Eve, and Betrayal (written in 1978) is his most autobiographical play based on his 7-year affair in the 1960s with Joan Bakewell (a well-known television broadcaster of the time).
Betrayal was first produced by Circa Theatre in 1980.
Starring Danielle Mason, Toby Leach, and Jason Whyte, and introducing Daniel Armstrong, Betrayal is directed by award-winning Ross Jolly – his fifth production of a Pinter play!
"A thrillingly frank study of love, friendship and the human heart … a masterpiece"
– Daily Telegraph
"An exquisitely crafted play" – Michael Billington, Guardian
"I suppose all directors have favourites, and Harold Pinter is my main man.
Posthumously hailed as "the world’s leading playwright", Pinter’s sardonic humour and brilliant, robust writing appealed immediately when seeing The Homecoming in 1970.
"I have now directed four ‘Pinters’ – The Homecoming (1992), No Man’s Land (1994), Moonlight (1995) and The Birthday Party (2002) – Betrayal will be the fifth and I love them all.
"In fact, it was after Moonlight that I received a letter from the man himself, congratulating us on our success, praising my programme notes, but rebuffing and firmly correcting an incorrect assertion. I was delighted, yet alarmed, lest I had offended my hero. Anyway, it had sparked the letter which remains a treasured icon – akin to a religious relic. Chided by Harold Pinter – what an honour!
"So, what’s it like in 2008 directing Betrayal, one of the world’s best plays, with a stellar cast. Quite simply – sublime!
"Pinter is a theatrical genius, the master craftsman – a giant. Betrayal, his moving, funny, compassionate dissection of love, is a celebration of meticulous economy, understated subtext, and rich, wonderful, lean language. It is a rare, glittering gem.
"It has been said of Pinter’s plays: "They’re not realistic. They’re so much better than that. They’re the truth."
"I feel I know the man a little from his work. I will miss him, because I’m sure we will not see his like again – a fair cricketer, a good actor, and a playwright of rare power and originality."
24th January – 21st February
$20 SPECIALS – Friday 23 January – 8pm; Sunday 25 January – 4pm.
Tuesday & Wednesday 6.30pm
Thursday, Friday, Saturday 8pm
Adults – $38; Concessions – $30; Friends of Circa – $28
Under 25s – $20; Groups 6+ s- $32
BOOKINGS: Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki Street, Wellington
Phone 801 7992 www.circa.co.nz
Jerry: TOBY LEACH
Emma: DANIELLE MASON
Robert: JASON WHYTE
Waiter: DANIEL ARMSTRONG
Set Designed by JOHN HODGKINS
Lighting Design by PHILLIP DEXTER
Stage Manager: Daniel Armstrong
Operator: Adam Walker
Costumes: Bonne Becconsall
Sound: Jeremy Cullen, Ross Jolly
Video: Andrew Brettell
Asst Set Design: Ross Jolly
Accent Coach: Nerissa Moore
Publicity: Claire Treloar
Graphic Design: Rose Miller, Toolbox Creative
Photography: Stephen A'Court
House Manager: Suzanne Blackburn
Box Office: Linda Wilson
1hr 20 mins, no interval
Solid production of excellent play strangely unaffecting
Review by Helen Sims 02nd Feb 2009
Betrayal is arguably the most accessible of Pinter’s works. Emma betrays her husband, Robert, a publisher, by conducting a seven-year affair with his best friend, Jerry, a literary agent. Although the plot is seemingly simple, it is told (mostly) in reverse – beginning with a meeting between Emma and Jerry several years after their affair has ended, and ending with the beginning of the affair (although who knows how long the feelings have been latent within them). Its themes become both clear and complex due to the retrospective construction – love, lust, memory, and of course, betrayal. Pinter ruthlessly pursues the point at which love begins to end – and the deceit begins.
The cast is good, especially Jason Whyte, who gives a master class in repressed feeling as Robert. Toby Leach manages to overcome the hindrance of being on crutches, and even uses it to brilliant comic effect in the final scene. Danielle Mason conveys the emotional vapidity of Emma well, despite employing a grating accent. The trio capture the comedy of the script well, and manage not to make the ‘Pinteresque’ dialogue seem laboured.
The set, designed by John Hodkins, serves the different settings well, offering at least four different spaces to function as a pub, flat, house, hotel and restaurant. Other design elements were not as strong – it got inexplicably dark rather quickly in 1975 (was there an eclipse?) and the costumes seem to be chosen more for being generically 70s looking rather than for being appropriate to the character. I disliked the bells and whistles added to this production – the AV design and between scene music were largely unnecessary for a play as well crafted as this, not to mention incongruous with the time period of the play. The danger of backfiring technology was illustrated on opening night when the dates shown by projection came up out of order. I’m never a fan of being ‘led’ as an audience member – there is plenty in the script for me to realise that we are now witnessing an event in the past – from the previous scenes you can place it in time. The show was pretty much undone finally for me by the cheesy ending – it would have been far more powerful to make it a still and simple connection indicating the beginning of the affair, rather than have swelling music and a spotlight closing in on the joined hands of Jerry and Emma. Pinter was the master of understatement and economy, but he could also reach emotional depths. For a self-professed Pinter fan Jolly seems not to be faithful to his idol’s aesthetic in this production.
Overall the production was strangely unaffecting. This may attributable in part to Pinter’s intention – there are many who have found this play shallow. But the production itself lacked punch. I found myself yearning for a sparer, more elegant production like those staged at Silo last year, by the Sydney Theatre Company or London’s West End. However, it is still worth going in order to see a solid production of an excellent play.
Originally published in The Lumière Reader.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
Lack of Chemistry
Review by Lynn Freeman 28th Jan 2009
Pinter lovers all have their favourite play and Betrayal will be at the top of the list for many. There is added poignancy knowing that this love triangle was based on Pinter’s own infidelities. But as always, the playwright goes beyond the naturalistic and his style is impossible to imitate.
In Betrayal we find out, in reverse order (think Memento), about the affair between Jerry (Toby Leach) and Emma (Danielle Mason). Emma is married to Jerry’s close friend Robert (Jason Whyte).
The play starts nine years after the affair begins, which is in fact several years after it ended. Emma and Jerry meet in a pub and reminisce. They know the post-affair form. "You ask about my husband, I ask about your wife." Jerry still carries a flame for Emma, though he remains married to the wife he cheated on for seven years. Emma is still married to Robert, though that seems about to end.
The backwards chronology means you have to keep your wits about you, but that’s no bad thing. It doesn’t quite have the punch of, say, productions which have reversed the order of Romeo and Juliet so your final image of them is not dead in a tomb but the budding of young love and what should have been. And even with careful lighting accentuating the moment, this production doesn’t pull off the last scene where the affair ignites.
The basic problem is a lack of chemistry between Mason and Leach, you just can’t believe their characters would set up a ‘home’ together. Without that electricity, the play falls flat. Jerry’s personality doesn’t help, he’s rather insipid, but with Robert so controlling and sardonic no doubt poor Emma finds solace in her lover’s arms. Whyte plays his part extremely well, becoming increasingly reptile like as the play progresses. Don’t get me wrong, Mason and Leach work well individually (though Mason’s accent grates at times), but we need them to have more fire in their bellies as a couple.
Leach by the way earned a round of applause for performing with a gammy leg, on crutches, and even building it into the play. Nicely done.
John Hodgkins’ elegant multi-level set and Ross Jolly’s sure-footed direction sees seamless set/year changes which is crucial in a tight 80 minute play.
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More than just marital infidelity
Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 26th Jan 2009
At a first glance the script of Pinter’s Betrayal seems to be a very straightforward account of an adulterous affair, even though the simple plot is told in near reverse chronological order.
The carefully calibrated everyday speech of the well-educated husband, wife and lover, all members of artistic and literary London of the 1970s, is banal and the backward storytelling tells us little more than the affair was bound to end in time.
But Pinter’s plays have a habit of burrowing into you, undermining you, surprising you, particularly when actors, as they do in Ross Jolly’s fine current Circa production, grasp the opportunities given to them by a playwright who was an actor to his fingertips.
As this ninety-minute play progresses we become aware that the title refers to far more than just marital infidelity. Betrayal, the cause of the emotional aridity of the characters, seeps into every aspect of life: Jerry and Robert betray their youthful promise and their love of literature, the one true moment of shared happiness when Jerry tosses Emma’s daughter in the air at a party becomes a disputed memory, and Jerry’s affair with Emma causes Robert to say he probably prefers Jerry to her.
All this is deftly exposed by Toby Leach as Jerry, Danielle Mason as Emma and Jason Whyte as Robert, a trio which has mastered the posh accent of smart Bohemia. Toby Leach, who is not at all hampered by the crutches he is forced to use because of an off-stage accident, and Jason Whyte capture exactly the pampered Oxbridge background of masculine sporting rivalry and intellectual pursuits, while Danielle Mason’s Emma is entirely believable as an efficient manager of her art gallery but an emotionally vapid woman.
John Hodgkins’s multiple setting dominated by a central screen that lets projected dates and a suggestion of the milieu to be shown, allows the scenes to progress smoothly, which are introduced by some well-chosen music and sound effects.
In the central scene of the play, when Emma and Robert are on holiday in Venice and her affair with Jerry is discovered by Robert, Ross Jolly has added a nice touch of Robert taking photos of the view from the hotel as well as angrily taking one of Emma lying on the bed reading a novel about betrayal that Jerry is promoting.
It’s moments like this in the production that add a dash of spice to what Pinter himself wrote about his dialogue: that the speech we hear is an indication of what we don’t hear. However, I find that while I admire the playwrighting skills, the subtle comedy, the levels of meaning, the complexity and the subtlety of the writing for all its apparent simplicity, I didn’t warm to the play.
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Alienation intended or access to empathy denied?
Review by John Smythe 25th Jan 2009
Apparently between 1962 and 1969 Harold Pinter had a seven-year affair with BBC Two’s Late Night Line Up presenter Joan Bakewell, dubbed ‘the thinking man’s crumpet’ by humorist Frank Muir. At the time she was married to BBC producer Michael Bakewell, who happened to be one of Pinter’s best friends; they divorced in 1972.
Pinter went on to channel the experience into a play which premiered in 1978 and spans 1968 to 1977, except he tells it in reverse: nine scenes covering six time-frames. From the dry husk of the affair’s aftermath he burrows back through key moments to the start’s juicy heart. In the interim, literary agent Jerry (married with children to Judith, a doctor) has been having it away in the afternoons with art dealer Emma who is married with children to book publisher Robert …
It’s a scenario steeped in subjective emotion and the tingling intrigues of deceit, which somehow has become reduced to an objective intellectual exercise, either because of the way Pinter wrote it or because of the way director Ross Jolly and company have done it.
Where other writers may have complicated the quest for illicit love with obstacles thrown up by children, spouses, work and the wider world at large, to make the lovers’ goal even more desirable and rewarding in its achievement, Pinter chooses to make it a breeze. They get away with it without effort, which is fairly undramatic.
He also chooses not to characterise the social mores of the time, despite its happening in the midst of a significant socio-sexual revolution. So when Emma plays the little housewife, cooking for Jerry in her pinny in their clandestine little Kilburn flat (so down-market none of their friend would ever see them), there is not the slightest acknowledgement that she is betraying the sisterhood.
Nothing raunchy, violent or scary happens on stage. What we get are scenes of respectable behaviour that may, when we think back on them, seethe with the swirling undercurrents of unspoken thoughts and feelings; of dangerous intimations … In a word: subtext. Each scene is really about something quite other than the words being spoken, some of which may be the tips of emotional icebergs (or rather wisps of steam escaping from hidden cauldrons) while the banality of others betray what is really flowing beneath the surface.
The question is, can this subtext touch the audience in the moments of its presence, compelling our desire to understand more by peeling back the layers, or has Pinter set his director and actors an impossible task? Put it this way: had this play been written by an unknown writer, would it have ever been produced let alone remained in the repertoire?
Self-confessed Pinter hero-worshipper Ross Jolly has no sense his ’emperor’ stands ‘naked’ as creator of this unusually autobiographical work. He calls Betrayal "one of the world’s best plays" and describes it as a "moving, funny, compassionate dissection of love" and a "celebration of meticulous economy, understated subtext, and rich, wonderful, lean, language." He also reminds us, "It has been said of Pinter’s plays: ‘They’re not realistic. They’re so much better than that. They’re the truth."
But as played in John Hodgkins’ functional set – melding two homes, the flat, a pub, a hotel room in Venice and a restaurant – Jolly’s cast is not only naturalistic but buttoned-down English in their delivery. All three speak in pristine tones more redolent of the Royal family than graduates of Cambridge then swinging London. Despite their socio-economic status, I don’t think Pinter was aiming for neo-Noel Coward.
As for the game of "squawsh" the chaps keep talking about, I could find no English person who recognised it or could tell me what that betrayed about their backgrounds. But given this choice of posh personae, the costumes (credited to Bonne Becconsall) look wrong, being more Marks and Sparks than Harrods; more Costume Cave than Carnaby Street.
Toby Leach’s Jerry, Danielle Mason’s Emma and Jason Whyte’s Robert all have an intelligent understanding of what their characters are experiencing. They give us comedy of insight when a betrayer bridles at being betrayed; dramatic tension when Emma must decide whether or not to tell Robert he’s been betrayed; comedy of menace when Robert meets Jerry and we know he knows but don’t know what he going to do about it … But the whys and wherefore behind the choice he makes are, like many other present actions, left for us to unravel later.
It is possible that people who have found themselves in similar situations will allow their emotional memories to enrich their viewing of the play. But for me, the most value I got from it was in thinking it through and talking about it afterwards. And it has to be a plus for the production that my recall of each scene was so clear that I had no trouble joining the dots to finally arrive at the ‘aha’ moments we are used to getting at the time they’re performed.
There may be some clue as to what was missing in the fact that while the programme suggested the running time was "1 hour 20 minutes approx", the actual duration on opening night was 1 hour 10 minutes. This could suggest that subtext was being sacrificed for undue emphasis on the beautifully enunciated text.
It should be noted that Toby Leach tore his Achilles tendon four days before opening night and the show went on with him on crutches and plaster-footed, and with some scenes now more sedentary than they had been before. It’s possible this affected the planned pacing but my feeling was that, these physical differences aside, it was playing out, in essence, as they had rehearsed it with all credit being due to him and his colleagues for achieving that.
Finally, then, we are left to decide whether Pinter intended us to be alienated and analytical or whether this production has yet to find the hidden dimension that gives us access to empathy.
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