Betrayal is an oddly heavy-handed name for a play which gives so little away. Neither soapy nor moralising, it is however one of Harold Pinter’s more accessible plays – which isn’t saying much. If in essence Betrayal is a simple and age-old story – the tale of a cheating wife, her abusive husband, and sleazy lover – it’s markedly unconventional in the way it removes the narrative scaffolding of chronological time and presents its scenes in a reversed and jumbled-up order. Fools and Kings (the company behind Endgame and Chicago) should be commended for taking it on.
It is not an easy play to act out, as it defies the usual emotional peaks and troughs which characterise human drama. Director Max Gill tells me that initially the play was rehearsed in forward chronological order to allow the actors to make sense of the plot, and in fact one of the strengths of this small, three-person cast is the range of emotional nuance that each actor displays. All three remained engaging and believable in the scenes I saw, and not once did the whip-quick shifts in mood and tone between scenes seem to faze them.
Cuckolded Robert is played with a quiet intensity by Henry Faber, who does a good job of lacing seemingly innocuous phrases with menace. Jordan Waller carries himself with a great deal of swagger as Jerry – Robert’s best friend and Emma’s lover – turning in a highly entertaining performance. At the centre of the piece, however, is Flora Zackon as Emma.
Zackon has the versatility to play a character that represents both vulnerability, as a woman at the centre of two ultimately failed relationships, and power, as Jerry’s lover and Robert’s disloyal wife. However in the scenes I saw it was the latter element that tended to predominate. These are to be frank, loathsome characters, all three, so it’s to the credit of the cast that they manage to keep the viewer invested nonetheless.
This is a play full of microaggressions and petty disagreements which all add up to produce the ‘big picture’ as it were, and accordingly much attention is paid to detail. In the scenes I saw small things such as body language, eye contact, and tone of voice were drawn together to telegraph immediately the state of the relationship between the characters.
This minuteness definitely helped to contextualise the performances in lieu of a conventional narrative. I am told that the final production will be drawn together further through the use of a TV set replaying moments from the lives of the trio, home video style.
Through devices such as this and a set design which will apparently be largely muted, Gill wants to evoke the artificiality of time. High concept aside, it’s clear that the cast and crew are well on the way to getting right what really matters – the human and dramatic components of this challenging play.
Betrayal is showing from the 28th of January to 1st of February at The Burton Taylor Studio. Tickets £6 (£5 concessions). For more on this production, check out our interview with director Max Gill.