The Pinter at the Pinter Season has been an extraordinary feat of theatre, seeing all of Harold Pinter’s short works take to the stage of the theatre that bears his name. The season reaches its climax with one of Pinter’s most dramatic pieces, Betrayal, and with an all-star cast that has ensured a near sell out run.
Pinter was inspired by his own affair with Joan Bakewell, so the title reflects the main story arch which sees an unfaithful Emma conduct a seven year fling with husband Robert’s best friend, Jerry. They even go so far as to rent a flat together in order to enjoy clandestine afternoons in each other’s company.
But it also examines other forms of betrayal, Emma betrays Jerry when she tells her husband about the affair without her lover’s knowledge, but the characters all betray themselves in some way too. Interestingly, Betrayal is presented in reverse chronological order. It begins as the affair comes to an end, and ends where the affair first begins. You would think that already knowing the ending would be a spoiler, but instead it teases you in to wondering not what comes next, but what came before. And, even though it moves backwards, it’s still one of Pinter’s more coherent works meaning that audience members who are there for the casting won’t have to grapple too hard with the content.
In contrast to some of the other productions in the season, the staging is minimal in the extreme. There’s nothing but a marbled wall, plus an occasional table and chair make an appearance. The scenes in the main are comprised two handers, leaving the third wheel to hang about casually elsewhere on the stage. Often this play looks more like an art installation, the actors draping themselves across the set in Instagram ready poses, casting shadows across the back wall.
This is further emphasised by the numerous pauses littered throughout the text. Such long pauses. You start to wonder if someone’s forgotten their lines as the cast just look at each other, posing. This makes the whole production feel rather drawn out and often stilted, and it starts to become frustrating, as these lulls become longer and more uncomfortable.
At least when the actors do speak, they all turn in exceptional performances. Tom Hiddleston is undoubtedly captivating as the cool, and somewhat heartless Robert. Zawe Ashton radiates class and sophistication, despite her unclear motivations. Perhaps the most honed performance comes from Charlie Cox, allowing Jerry to exhibit a range of emotions as he comes to terms with being both the betrayed and the betrayer.
Harold Pinter’s Betrayal is certainly a fantastically written piece of theatre, and here in this production it does look exceptionally beautiful. But the stuttering nature of the delivery makes for a frustrating watch, and with none of the characters really worthy of our sympathy, we’re left with only Pinter’s text to really enjoy. Perhaps that is the best way to end Pinter at the Pinter after all.