Review by Elyse Trevers
Three actors, two chairs, long pauses, meaningful glances. This is the stunning revival of “Betrayal”, the drama by Harold Pinter, which begins at the end and works backwards. When the characters first speak, they are meeting two years after their affair has ended. Emma (Zawe Ashton) has contacted Jerry (Charlie Cox) and they meet in a pub where they speak nostalgically about the rented flat where they met for years. Then the play flashes back a few years to the actual end of their relationship.
It moves back again another few years, and another jump back until the beginning of the affair. The drama begins in 1977 and ends in 1968, and references made in certain scenes become clearer later as they really occur.
The characters never change their clothes or hairstyles, yet the movement backwards is apparent. However, to aid the audience, the passage of time flashes on the curtain behind the actors.
The story is more than a betrayal of a wife of her husband; it’s about a friend being disloyal to his best friend. The relationships are filled with deceit and lies, and slowly and skillfully, the complicity is unraveled to the viewer. While Jerry cheats with Emma on her husband Robert (Tom Hiddleston,) it seems that Robert has also been having affairs.
Though Jerry’s wife is never seen, it is inferred that she, too, might be seeing someone else. Naively, Jerry claims that she is too busy with her work and the family. Although Emma is seeing Jerry, there is a suggestion that she may be getting interested in one of his clients.
The drama is well-cast. Hiddleston (“The Avengers”) is imperious and disdainful. He stands straight and tall and even when engaged, seems somewhat distant. Cox is slightly vulnerable and almost needy.
When Jerry learns that Robert has known about the affair for years, he seems more concerned about his friendship with Robert than Emma’s marriage. Ironically, he sounds a bit hurt that he didn’t know that Robert was seeing other women since, after all, they’re best friends.
As the woman in the middle, Ashton is the strongest of the three, controlling and sensual. Yet she is the one who is always barefoot. (Maybe invoking the figure of speech about keeping women barefoot and pregnant.)
Beautifully staged and directed by Jamie Lloyd, “Betrayal” is engrossing as the audience must follow the nuances and innuendos. Yet, at times, the looks and pauses feel slightly too long. The stage is bare and when two characters who are supposedly alone interact the third is always present, standing still, very much in plain sight. The third party is always part of the betrayal.
The show had a sell-out London run and is scheduled for a short 17- week run at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, so be sure to get your tickets. The play is a powerful study of betrayal of spouses and friends; it’s about love and loss and self-deception.