The intimate setting of the Burton Taylor Studio is a natural fit for Betrayal, Harold Pinter’s probing dissection of adultery. Bar an anachronistic silver television screen, the production design put us firmly in the 1970s – the age of turtlenecks, loafers, and lunchtime drinking, when a love affair could be exposed by an intercepted letter.
The situation appears to be a simple one: Emma has an affair with her husband Robert’s best friend, Jerry. However, Pinter fragments chronological narrative so that the play begins long after the affair has ended and depicts it in reverse, in disconnected episodes. Our understanding of situations is filtered through our perception of what has gone before and what will follow, so that the strata of suspicion and simulation are mercilessly exposed. In this production, the grainy home video footage shown on the television screen between scenes reflects in an innovative visual form this sense of hitting rewind.
Faced with complex material, the strong cast offers mature and nuanced performances. Flora Zackon as Emma has a brittle quality which masks a vulnerability and longing for security and affection which neither Robert nor Jerry can satisfy. As her husband Robert, Henry Faber skilfully maintains tension between feigned indifference and seething anger – he is literally rigid with repressed rage. The relationship of emotional and implied physical violence between Emma and Robert is sensitively handled. Jordan Waller convinces as a cheery but nervous Jerry, moving with ease from blustering bonhomie to tearful guilt, and the blackly comic camaraderie between Robert and Jerry is particularly successful. Indeed, the level of control over the complexities of the character and narrative arcs, and the dextrous handling of Pinter’s dialogue and pauses, approaches professional standard.
Pinter’s characters are unable to look beyond themselves or communicate with another. The logorrhoea and lust with which Emma and Jerry’s affair begins dribbles away into a recurrent conversation disputing the details of a supposedly shared memory. Emma and Jerry can find no stable foundation for their relationship. As this production ably conveys, their affair is rooted in, and perpetuated by, a fiction.
How could it be anything else, when Emma, Robert, and Jerry betray everything except their true feelings?