Archives‎ > ‎

Betrayal

Betrayal, by Harold Pinter
A Backyard Theatre Production
Played at the Gryphon, 22 Ghuznee Street
11-28 May 2005

In February 2005, Pinter announced that, after 29 stage plays, he wasn't writing any more, preferring to channel his energies into other activities, particularly poetry and politics. He said he was incensed by the betrayal of the people by the Labour Party and stated it as his mission to get rid of Tony Blair.

With his retirement from writing for theatre, could this production be seen, then, as part of a retrospective?

"It could", says Julia Harris, who played Emma, "if the subject and the characters were in any way dated, but they're not. They ring as true in 2005 as they did in 1978. People don't fundamentally change, and Pinter was writing about the fundamentals of human nature."

Phil Peleton, who played cuckolded husband Robert, agrees. "I think if you were going to have a retrospective, you'd have to put Betrayal in there. It's not as surreal as some of his earlier plays, but it's still concerned with the same issues - class, social conformity, role playing. To me these characters are constantly trying to redefine their roles and relationships. They're desperate to find affection and safety, but in that very brittle English way.

When Betrayal first appeared in 1978, it received some of the harshest reviews in theatrical history. Some critics saw Peter Hall's production as a shameless throwback to an era when the drama preferred to concern itself with adulterous husbands, "other" women, and interminably eternal triangles. Yet a revival in 1998, by Trevor Nunn to popular acclaim, showed that the script is as up to date as ever.

Emma's marriage to book publisher Robert, which had survived seven years of adultery, is now finally crumbling. At risk, also, is the friendship between Robert and Jerry, Emma's lover.

From this poignant starting point, Harold Pinter's award-winning play travels back in time, visiting pivotal points in the relationships between these three characters. We stop where the story actually begins—at a party, with a kiss. Who betrays whom, and how, is the essence of the play, told in Pinter's sparse yet eloquent style, and replete with his iconic pauses.

Husband and wife Mark and Julia Harris and colleague Phil Peleton were no strangers to the Wellington stage or to each other. They had all worked together as actors and singly as directors. They brought their experience together directing each other's performances as a collaborative venture.

Says Mark Harris: "it's been a very interesting and stimulating process. We started rehearsals sitting and talking, rather than blocking. We shared a common understanding of the characters and the subtext of the piece before we moved onto the stage in earnest. So, the direction is seamless. I can't even tell who managed which bits now. I've directed Julia before, and we've both acted with Phil, but now we're all working so closely it's very exciting. There's a level of trust that belies the subject matter of the play."

Mark Harris has also picked up the design duties, for set, lights and sound. "I wanted to not do a movie set. Stage is not screen, and we need to celebrate what is different. While the show is real, it's not super-realistic in setting or style. We looked for an eternal approach that would support the script without getting in the way of the performance. It's minimalist and stylistic, working from the black box style, and allows quick and easy transitions between scenes."

Backyard's production of Betrayal opened on 11 May 2005 at the Gryphon Theatre, 22 Ghuznee St. and ran until 28 May.

Betrayal