Derby Theatre, Thursday 5th September, 2013
London Classic Theatre’s latest tour kicks off in Derby but already it feels like a production that has had more performances. The cast of four seem well bedded in their roles – and I use the term advisedly: Pinter’s Betrayal is the story of an affair.
On the face of it, “Man sleeps with best friend’s wife” seems unremarkable as a storyline. It is a staple ingredient of every soap you can think of. What sets Pinter’s version apart is the structure. The action happens backwards – I don’t mean in some comic rewind kind of way. We meet the characters in nine scenes, each scene occurring before the previous. This is a device that has since been used in more than a couple of films, but few examples are as effective as presented here.
And so we first meet Emma (Rebecca Pownall) and Jerry (Steven Clarke) sometime after their affair has ended. Gradually we track their relationship right back to the pivotal moment of their decision to embark on it. Along the way, husband Robert (Pete Collis) gets wind of it. Such is the effect of the structure, the tension is almost palpable. Earlier (or later!) Emma reveals that Robert has hit her a few times. When we come to the scene when the truth comes out, the possibility of our witnessing such violence is very real.
The cast run the gamut of emotions. As Emma, Rebecca Pownall is brittle, strident, vulnerable, happy… but, as if often the case with Pinter, her most powerful scenes are when she says very little. She squirms in her Venetian deck chair as Robert skirts around her infidelity during a holiday. Her silence speaks volumes. It is remarkable. Lover Jerry is a bit of a prat; Steven Clarke imbues him with likeability along with his selfishness and impulsive nature. Pete Collis’s Robert is, by contrast, quite a static figure, but his stillness hints at the emotion he is restraining. The fourth member of the cast is Max Wilson as the Italian waiter who gets the brunt of Robert’s annoyance, as anger is deflected from his best friend across the table.
It all runs like clockwork. The script is undeniably Pinter. The drama is leavened by the unconscious humour of everyday interaction, the highly charged subtext contrasts with the banality of the characters’ middle class existence, emotions are articulated between the lines, and an underlying sense of tension bubbles along throughout.
Director Michael Cabot has got it spot on in terms of pace and tone. Bek Palmer’s set evokes ruined buildings, in a war zone, perhaps: scenes take place among partial corners, doorways and windows. The characters lives are in ruins, after all! Andy Grange’s lighting design helps differentiate the locations – the final moment, when the affair begins, owes as much to the designers as it does the performers. The colour palette is muted, greys and browns. This is the 1970s. Touches of colour appear the closer we revert to the 60s. It’s very subtly done through costume (designer: Katja Krzesinska) making for a quality production in all respects. The only nit I would pick is that the hairstyles need 70-fying a bit more. Perhaps as the tour goes on, this will happen naturally as the actors’ hair grows!