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Betrayal: A flawed but enjoyable interpretation of a stone-cold classic

Betrayal copy

Review: Betrayal at St David’s Hall

A COMPETENT staging of Harold Pinter’s classic 1978 play about adulterers, Betrayal, opened its three-performance run at St David’s Hall last night.

James Robert Auheb’s low-budget production depicts the traitorous romances of a married couple, Emma and Robert (Gemma Leader and Matthew Curran), and their friend Jerry (Paul Tonkin). Making use of reverse chronology, Betrayal begins with a scene that occurs after the demise of Emma and Jerry’s affair, and ends seven years earlier at its inception. In between, the characters relentlessly hurt, deceive and betray each other.

The play itself is a stone-cold classic. It exhibits all of Pinter’s genius for veiling menace and rage in a thin layer of civility. A master of controlling a conversation’s subtext, Pinter creates characters who rarely say anything without a hidden meaning, and yet the dialogue never seems obtuse. Sinister connotations hang over each scene like a guillotine.

Pinter makes an inspired decision in placing the events of Betrayal in reverse chronological order. There is something perversely captivating about watching characters declare their adoration in the knowledge that their relationships will become cold and distant. The final scene is fatalistic but powerful in its portrayal of Jerry and Emma’s young passion.

This small-scale production is nothing special, but it does an honest job of honouring the material. The 50 or so viewers last night (about half of capacity) were seated right up against the action, which played out on a spartan set amounting to nothing more than a few wooden chairs and boxes. The intimacy and simplicity of the staging were effective, allowing focus to be directed on the complexity of Betrayal’s emotional dynamics.

The actors were reasonably accomplished, although at times they struggled to bring out the material’s buried meanings. On more than a few occasions, the emphasis put on lines was a little off, Paul Tonkin being the main offender. His portrayal of Jerry was watchable, but not quite likeable enough. The character works best when interpreted as a naïve romantic, rather than the sleazeball on show last night.

There was an appealing vulnerability to Gemma Leader’s Emma. Her performance was not perfect, but she grew into the role as the play went on. One scene in particular revealed her to be an actor of real talent: she teetered on the edge of tears while Matthew Curran’s Robert toyed with her, making for uncomfortable and affecting viewing. Curran, who carried a formidable, looming presence, delivered the night’s standout performance.

If you are already familiar with Betrayal this production is unlikely to make a huge impression. Newcomers are more likely to be blown away by this adequate rendition of an exceptional work.

Rating: 7/10