Betrayal is one of Harold Pinter's subtlest and most honest plays
- Alex Johnston
- 27 February 2012
Dominic Hill directs work examining an affair
There were many Harold Pinters: the gruff scourge of political hypocrisy; the resourceful screenwriter; the mesmerising actor, heroically playing Beckett when terminally ill; the not terribly good poet. Pinter the playwright, however, looms over them all. His output slowed in later life but for his first quarter-century he was a sorcerer. From 1957’s The Room to 1984’s One For The Road he produced a succession of haunting masterpieces.
Betrayal, currently being revived by the Citz, was inspired by painful personal events. The initial spur was an extra-marital affair Pinter had with Joan Bakewell, although by the time Pinter came to write it he’d gone back to his first wife Vivien Merchant and then left her for Antonia Fraser. The ensuing personal turmoil seems to have put Pinter in a straighten-up-and-fly-right mood, in that Betrayal is lean and tersely naturalistic, with none of the surreal comic menace of his earlier plays. The real stroke of genius was to tell the story in reverse. The play opens in 1977 with former lovers Jerry and Emma reflecting on the damage, and works its way back via deceptions and admissions to the moment in 1968 when a drunk Jerry first confesses his love to her. Cal Macaninch, who plays cuckolded husband Robert, remarks that ‘knowing the outcome of a story gives delicious resonance to the choices they all make as we travel back with them.’ It’s like a whodunit where the victim is truth and the criminal turns out to be everyone; as Macaninch points out, ‘the audience is kept on their toes figuring who knows what at any given time.’ The result is one of Pinter’s subtlest and most honest plays, with Emma arguably his finest female character. Dominic Hill directs, with Neve McIntosh as Emma and Hywel Simon as Jerry.
Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, Fri 2–Sat 24 Mar