Mini-review – Betrayal – Comedy Theater

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There is something so perfect about seeing Pinter at the Comedy Theater, where, per the posters, nearly every play he’s written has been produced, or so it seems. Unfortunately the current revival of Betrayal is suffering from the pricing associated with celebrity casting (Kristin Scott Thomas), so I’ve put off seeing this show for months waiting for seats I could afford. £25.00 in the way way way up there balcony? Forget it. However, Lastminute.com saved my bacon with some £15 restricted view seats that were at least actually seats rather than standing (albeit designed for ladies shorter and slimmer than myself: I spent the whole show sitting sideways), so a few days before this production ends I was finally able to see it.

The production got off to a stilted start as Thomas sits with Douglas Henshall, the boyfriend to her character Emma, having drinks at a table and failing to discuss whatever it is they’ve come to discuss. While I thought they might try to play up the Pinterian “silences,” in fact the clunkiness came from the rather mechanical way they were and then weren’t looking at each other. Sentence end: she up, he down. Pause: he at her, she sideways. I imagined them being drilled in it mercilessly until Ian Rickson was positive they knew exactly, at every phrase, where Emma and Jerry are looking. I quailed as we were dragged through the painful scene. Was this going to be a terrible evening? Just minutes later (though going backwards in time), Emma throws the keys across the stage in what was supposed to be a furious, despairing moment, but which had the sponenaiety of a birthday party for Kim Jong Il.

And then … God, when did the magic happen? Was it when snippy, somewhat evil Robert (Ben Miles) came on stage and we started to see the proof of the first of what began to seem like an endless series of lies? Watching Robert prowl around and bluster, I couldn’t help but think of the playwright’s own lies in telling this play, as he retold his own story in a way that suited his needs. Who really was the baddie? Was the boyfriend portrayed as a bit of a simpleton in part to wreak revenge for the wife’s infidelity, or was the husband a bully because it made him less sympathetic? I wasn’t sure of the details of the real life incidents but, man, I got sucked in fast. Scene after scene of unspun and newly minted untruths, the simple hard facts of how manipulative people are to each other, the strange mystery of how passion plays into the equation, the sense of ownership that comes into relationships, the pathetic reality of how completely unable to entangle ourselves from each other we are … I was almost breathless waiting for each scene to happen. I lost track of time. I lost track of the play. I forgot about the actors (although I did wonder about some clothes and set furnishings). And suddenly it was over and, oh man, Pinter had taken me for quite a ride. I realize it was only 90 minutes long but it was the most engaged period of time I’d spent in a theater in ages.

Anyway, it’s a few days later, and the play is closing this weekend, but man, if you’re trying to figure out what to do and you want one of those peak experiences, I’d highly recommend seeing Betrayal. I was immensely pleased at what I got for £15 (despite the near bruises on my shins) and expect you will be, too.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, August 15th, 2011. It’s final perfomance is Saturday at 7:30 PM.)

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