Betrayal review at Salisbury Playhouse – ‘a lack of chemistry’

Kirsty Besterman and Robert Hands in Betrayal at Salisbury Playhouse. Photo: Helen Murray Kirsty Besterman and Robert Hands in Betrayal at Salisbury Playhouse. Photo: Helen Murray
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Harold Pinter’s claustrophobic 1978 three-hander, Betrayal, is one of his greatest works. A tangle of lies, deceit and middle-class philandering, it spools backwards in time, exposing the layers of treachery in literary agent Jerry’s affair with Emma, his best friend’s wife, beginning at the affair’s end and rewinding to its beginning.

Playhouse associate director Jo Newman’s revival doesn’t really capture the play’s strengths and gets lost on the vast width of Salisbury Playhouse’s main stage.

Perhaps Newman and designer Hannah Wolfe wanted to highlight the emptiness at the heart of the triangular relationship. But it feels as if there’s too much physical space for the actors to fill, too many overplayed pauses in the opening pub scene, too much time to study the joints in the back wall of the set, too little of interest on stage to hold the attention visually or emotionally. Each scene has its own colour wash; this has the effect of making the production grow steadily more colourless as the years recede.

There is good work from Robert Hands’ cuckolded husband, his performance a mixture of bonhomie and underlying menace. But there is a tangible lack of chemistry between Kirsty Besterman’s brittle Emma and Robert Mountford’s Jerry, whose over-emphatic delivery makes it seem as if he’s in a different play altogether.

When the biggest laughs come care of a disappearing bed, the cod Italian accent of the waiter and a hastily scoffed first course, it doesn’t makes for the most satisfying of theatrical experiences.

Pinter revival that’s lacking in visual flair and emotional bite