Nearly 30 years old now, Betrayal took a few critical knocks when it first appeared. Different in nature to Pinter’s earlier works, the play was dismissed by some as little more than a high-class soap opera, dealing as it does with a love-triangle between best friends Jerry and Robert, and Robert’s wife Emma. But Pinter brings no less skill and intelligence to this as to his other writing, constructing a deeply affecting meditation on the multi-faceted nature of betrayal.
As with any other production of Pinter, success rests on the sensitivity of the director to the rhythm and structure of speech and the ability of the cast to deliver the emotion as controlled by the text. There can be nothing said against any of the individuals involved here, who collectively nail the tone beautifully.
Toby Stephens as Jerry and Samuel West as Robert spark off each other with a great feel for their humorous, sometimes mannered exchanges. Stephens’ Jerry appears somewhat lost by the whole affair, never matching his first admission of love for Emma during its course and more angry at Robert for not revealing his knowledge of it earlier. He seems confounded by the collapse of the accepted conventions of adultery.
The pair convince that in many ways their own relationship is the more cherished. West navigates Robert’s disappointment and anger touchingly, also displaying his personal sense of disillusionment. At the heart of the play, Dervla Kirwan is superb as Emma, who is rubbed out to certain degrees by both men in her life. She is a calm centre, brimming with emotion released in controlled spurts. Her retracing of the affair from broken marriage and self to brightness and optimism is moving.
The reversed chronology of the play unfolds in a choreography of white curtains that shift like the veils of time and conjure different spaces on the stage – simple but highly effective design. There really is nothing to fault here.