Saturday, 11 June 2011

Betrayal, Comedy Theatre

I'm a sucker for Pinter, although I have a highly chequered relationship with productions at London's theatres. This Comedy Theatre production reminds me of trying to see The Caretaker (with Michael Gambon) from the balcony, where a mixture of vertigo and sheer discomfort in chairs not replaced since the war meant I left early.

Well despite having to battle once again (all of the above plus some muppet who'd brought their dinner in with them) my determination to get proper attentive traction on the play was well rewarded. Betrayal is tame Pinter, a Pinter explaining himself, honest but reaching out for understanding, rather than dissecting the idea of compassion with the playwright's scalpel. Told backwards - the chronology isn't exactly in reverse, with some scenes moving forward throughout a given year - the play isolates the temperature of the relationships within a veiled love-triangle over a decade (1968-1977). The likelihood that Betrayal is a prismatic account of Pinter's own adulterousness means, as I mean by 'tame', that the dialogue teases out the absurdities and discomfort of the situation but rarely throws punches or spits bile. I find this a disappointment. The lid-ripping of something feral was what was missing from this performance (probably as it's missing from the play). Instead I watched a world of unchannelled feeling in which a middle-class disinclined to rage but too upset to reason translates as a paralysis of positive action, the laconic non-action of this famous contemporaneous double portrait by David Hockney.

This is pathos in its own right, of course, and is what comes across in this beautifully played production. Kristin Scott Thomas is ideal casting: independent, but contingent, perpetually subsuming the moral kaleidoscope of her involvement in the comforts that it presents. Douglas Henshall is an open book, a warm man who is clearly the victim of his own volubility, even before we see the final scene - i.e. the beginning of the affair. Ben Miles makes up the trio as Emma's husband, a drier, more obscure presence. The production is clearly presented in a strongly lit, cunningly constructed set (revolving wings transform the space economically) and, mercifully, with a bare minimum of tasteful music. Quietly affecting, although it won't contort your world view like The Birthday Party or No Man's Land, for example.

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