Betrayal (Dir. for the stage by Peter Lamb, 2014)
Francois Ozon’s critically acclaimed study in the breakdown of a relationship as told in reverse secured his place as one of the most daring and exciting French directors of the twentyfirst century. Flashback three decades prior to 5×2s 2004 release and the critics were not quite so enamoured with Harold Pinter’s 1978 stage play, Betrayal. Michael Billington, writing for The Guardian in 2011 following a new production at the Comedy Theatre in the West End explains his own curious obsession with the piece despite his initial dismissal upon its first release stating that “I seem to have spent much of my life discovering its complexities.”
Both Ozon and Pinter deal with similar themes; love, loss, deception, power struggle and disintegration of the self. Both works look at the deep dissatisfaction which throughout film and literature is seen to blight the supposedly privileged middle classes. And both exploit the device of the reverse narrative in order to expose the tragedy of the foregone conclusion. These complex and compelling elements made for a potent concoction in 5×2 and when I heard that Strathclyde Theatre Group was set to offer its own take on Pinter’s cutting drama, with a three day run at the East Kilbride Art Centre I couldn’t resist taking another lethal sip on opening night.
Director Peter Lamb displays an impressive and sensitive understanding of Pinter’s intention to allow the actors to embody the damaged, self destructive characters they are portraying, a crucial skill when working with his sparse, repetitive dialogue.
Betrayal’s verbal dance of deceit is most fully realised in the scenes involving Barry Ward as Jerry and Derek Banner as Robert, two fearless powerhouses who ensure that not one syllable of Pinter’s cutting script is wasted in its attack on the human condition. The piece becomes just as much the portrait of the souring of their friendship as it is the portrayal of the collapse of Robert’s marriage to Emma, played by Felicity Thomson.
What sets Betrayal apart from other reflections on the disenfranchised and pitiable middle classes is its unique approach to its protagonists’ loss of identity. Scene seven in particular sees a rather soused Robert admit that his only pleasure from his and Emma’s ill fated trip to Venice was realised during moments of selfimposed isolation; a mark of just how far the couple have drifted but also a sign that their union now fails to uphold his status as husband, father and ultimately, man. Banner’s subtle and controlled performance exposes Robert’s realisation that his manipulation of Jerry and Emma serves only to highlight his own miserable predicament. He is as dependent on the game as the game depends on his participation.
Lamb’s choice of soundtrack combined with evocative projections conveying physical and emotional landscapes neatly ties these tragic set pieces together. I was especially pleased and moved, not to mention wryly amused by the inclusion of the classic Turtles hit, So Happy Together which brilliantly offsets the play’s bleak conclusion.