Performed in the Unicorn Theatre 24 - 27 June 2009
by Harold Pinter
One could not have wished for a more perfect setting for a play last week
than the Unicorn Theatre.
I had read the play, Betrayal by Harold Pinter, but never seen
it, so I was very excited about the prospect of seeing how it would be
performed. I certainly was not disappointed.
The Director, and her cast, had studied the characters they were to play, I would say, in some depth.
Donna Forrest - Emma
This may have been the second play Donna has performed in, but I would never have known that had it not appeared in the programme.
She was confident in her character, looked good, spoke with clarity of diction;
and was in control of everything that she did. She was able to handle her husband and lover. We did not know until the end of the play who had started the betrayal. A first class performance. Well done.
Michael Ward – Jerry & Production Designer
An experienced man of many talents, both from an acting point of
view and designing a set for a small stage.
As his character Jerry, he was excellent. His timing of the lines and facial expressions were superb. It was a good job all the drink was not real, otherwise I would have had to assume he was an alcoholic!
A part you can look back on with pride. Congratulations.
Phil Bower - Robert
This again was a complex character to play. On one hand he could have been seen as the innocent victim, on the other he could have been thought of as a scheming individual. Phil played the part cleverly, varied his voice tone, made full use of the stage and was confident. Well done.
Gerald Ward - Waiter
This may have been his first venture into the hospitality industry,
but he may have no fear that he will ever be out of work. He did a splendid job. Congratulations.
Liz Adams - Director
She knew exactly what she wanted from this play. Did her study of psychology at University have any part to play on how she envisaged this play being performed? With the talented cast at her disposal she certainly pulled it off.
I liked the choice of music during the scene changes and everything ran very smoothly. Congratulations.
Crew - All these people are a vital cog to any production. Without them there would be no show. They were the unsung heroes of the show.
Set, Sound & Lighting Design - Michael Ward
This was well thought out and skilfully operated by Lydia Fletcher.
Stage Manager - Jill Calvert
Along with her stage crew - Keith Hales, Annie Stephenson, Kevin Thomson, Rob Purbrick.
The crew worked quietly, and efficiently, through-out the entire performance to give us nine scene changes - 4 in the first half and 5 in the second.
Set Construction - Keith Hales, Malcolm Ross, Michael and Rob Purbrick.
An experienced group, who I’m sure have worked closely together before, created a good, strong, well made, box set which had all the features required, in a well presented manner.
Props - Laura King, Liz Adams, Michael Ward, Malcolm Ross.
All seemed in order and some individuals had been very busy during this production.
Wardrobe - Laura King, Lia Adams, Jane Cadogan, Michael Ward, Mary Hichens, Geraldine McTier, Freda Scott.
All costumes seemed to fit well, were clean, and well pressed, and were within the period.
Front of House and Refreshments - John Hawkins
People were welcomed with a smile. The service from the refreshment team was polite and efficient.
There is no mention of this in the programme. To me it is important, no matter how few in a cast, as stage lighting can play tricks on how one looks, compared with ordinary lights. There were areas when I believe extra make-up would have been beneficial to certain characters.
Box Office – Brenda Ross
The Box Office was working very efficiently. An expert in her field.
May I thank you all for a very enjoyable evening and I look forward to the next play.
Gareth Jeremy - NODA - 24/6/2009
Written in 1978 Betrayal is without doubt one of Pinters most critically
acclaimed and well known plays. The plays settings are London and Venice
between the years 1968 to 1977 but in reverse order and revolves around an
affair which takes place between Emma and her husband Roberts best friend
Jerry. Starting with the disclosure of the affair in the spring of 1977 it
cleverly works its way back through the years ending with the very begining of
the affair in the Winter of 1968.
Having seen Betrayal performed at the Donmar theatre in Covent Garden London a
few years back i was very excited about seeing this production and all i can
say is wow. It was very clear to me from the moment i took my seat that this
was going to be a very special performance. Production wise it is quite
possibly the best i have ever seen from an ADC play with a truly stunning set,
great sound and innovitive use of a projector ( masterly operated by newcomer
Lydia Fletcher) which provided the links between each scene with sildes of the
cast in various poses in different locations.
With only three main characters in the play plus a cameo apperance from an
italian waiter there is little room for error and i am therefore very pleased
to say each of the cast delivered outstanding performancies. Mike Ward
gave us a truly fantastic performance, Phil Bower (Robert) the best
performance i have ever seen phil deliver and Donna Forrest (Emma) was amazing,
remember that this is only the seconed play that Donna has ever performed in
ADC and that she is still a relative newcomer to the club. Gerard Ward (The
Italian Waiter) also gave us a great Cameo appearance which added a touch of
comedy to the play.
With a clear understanding of the play, great vision, direction and artistic
flare, director Liz Adams has delivered a true Gem of a production and one that
she and her team should be proud of.
Tristan Kear ADC commitee member 24/6/2009
The usual measure of the greatness of a play is how well it stands up over time. By this criterion, Harold Pinter’s Betrayal has already acquired the status of a contemporary classic. When it first appeared in 1978 (directed by Peter Hall) it won the prestigious Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play, despite being dismissed by several critics as rather inferior fare. Even Michael Billington – Pinter’s long-time champion and biographer – bemoaned ‘the pitifully thin strip of human experience it explores’ and denounced the play as a ‘kind of high-class soap-opera’ (a shrill and ultimately shallow view that Billington, to his credit, later recanted). Since then Betrayal has been successfully adapted to the big screen (directed by David Jones in 1983), and it has now become a familiar part of the British theatrical repertoire.
Betrayal tells the story of a seven-year-long affair between Jerry, a literary agent, and Emma, the wife of Jerry’s best friend Robert, a publisher. As Michael Billington later noted in his critical biography of Pinter, Betrayal was directly inspired by the playwright’s own affair with the writer and broadcaster Joan Bakewell, who was married at the time to a friend and colleague of Pinter’s. Billington’s insider knowledge of that real-life betrayal must surely have clouded his initial judgement of this wonderfully intricate play, which is of its time – a wry and slyly comic study of the middle-class literati in the swinging seventies – yet also timeless: a bleak and strangely tender exploration of betrayal in all its various guises (and disguises).
Perhaps a better measure of a play’s greatness is not how well it is treated by time but how well it treats time itself, both technically and thematically. From Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex (‘Time eases all things’) to Shakespeare’s Hamlet (‘The time is out of joint’) to Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (‘That passed the time’), time and the inevitable tragedy of its passing has been the mainstay of all great drama. From this perspective, Betrayal is a great play not just because of the universality of its story but also because of the particular way in which that story is told: nine symmetrical scenes, arranged in reverse sequence, beginning with the aftermath of the affair in 1977 and ending with its beginning in 1968.
In recent years, this technique of reverse chronology – which is as old as the Aeneid and One Thousand and One Nights – has been used to great effect in novels such as Martin Amis’s Time’s Arrow (1991) and in films such as Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2001), but rarely has it been used with such delicacy and depth of feeling as in Pinter’s Betrayal. The main purpose of this device is to defamiliarize the action of the story: the playwright takes conventional and even hackneyed events and recasts them in new and startling ways. More than this, though, reverse chronology disrupts the usual chain of cause-and-effect links so that the audience learns things about the characters that they themselves don’t know, thereby adding unexpected levels of poignancy and pathos to the underlying web of secrets and lies.
The only problem with this particular narrative device is how to signal on stage the reverse movement of time without completely confusing the audience. Abingdon Drama Club’s response to this fundamental question is both elegant and economical: between each of the nine scenes a screen is lowered down over the boxed-in set and the relevant year – ‘1977’, ‘1975’, ‘1973’, etc. – is projected onto it. During the scene changes behind the screen there is also a clever (and ironic) use of soundtrack to reinforce the reverse shift in time, moving backwards from the Sex Pistols’s ‘Liar’ to Joni Mitchell’s ‘Blue’ to The Velvet Underground’s ‘Venus in Furs’, and so on.
The staging here is effective and engaging, and it helps to situate the play very firmly in the 1970s. In fact, this visual and acoustic design is part-and-parcel of the general production concept, or as director Liz Adams wrote in her programme notes: ‘the show has for me been a period piece, with all the challenges and excitement of exploring the relevant styles of dress, music, and, on occasion, social conventions’.
This particular interpretation is entirely valid, even if sometimes the desire for realism seems slightly at odds with the more universal themes of the play and its fractured, anti-realist structure. For instance, between each scene a series of photographs of the main characters is projected onto the screen, showing them together in happier times. Included in these photographs is the figure of Jerry’s wife, Judith (posed by the director herself, Liz Adams), who does not appear anywhere else in the play. Unfortunately, including images of her in this way raises some niggling questions: if she appears in the photographs with the other characters, then why isn’t she ever seen on stage? Moreover, if these are meant to be family photographs, then where have all their children gone? Like Judith, the children are mentioned in the script but never actually appear; here, we feel their absence in a way that is needlessly disconcerting.
In the same vein, the insistence on period realism can sometimes jar in the most trivial of details: if it really is the seventies, for example, then why do the wine bottles have screw tops? Of course, this is a very minor point, even nitpicky, but it does underline the dangers of such a determinedly realist approach, which can sometimes distract us from the real action of the play.
The action itself is nicely paced – Pinter’s famous pauses are generally well timed – and the actors – Donna Forrest as Emma, Michael Ward as Jerry and Phil Bower as Robert, ably supported by Gerard Ward as the waiter – give the characters a certain likeability and charm. At times, though, they’re all a little too likeable, and lack the requisite meanness for some of their more angry and bitter exchanges (for a master class in understated menace and repressed violence see Jeremy Irons and Ben Kingsley in the film version of Betrayal).
What is most effective about the overall design of the play is the stage itself (credit here should go to Michael Ward, who designed the set, sound and lights). The stage of the Unicorn Theatre is not the biggest of arenas, and it can often feel rather cramped; in this production the set is boxed in even further and takes the shape of a cube, which adds to the play’s pervasive sense of suffocation. Whether the characters are at home in their love nest, at dinner in a restaurant or on holidays in Venice, the expressionistic set emanates an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia and suppressed rage. This, in fact, is the real essence of the play, beyond its period-piece detail: the gradual realisation that this rather brittle world of deceit and disloyalty is slowly closing in on the characters, trapping them all in a prison cell of their own making.
This physical manifestation of the play’s central concern is far more powerful than any naturalistic detail could ever suggest. Consequently, this is a brave and bold design and the players should take greater confidence from the staging than they sometimes allow themselves as actors. Betrayal is a difficult play to perform but Abingdon Drama Club have done themselves proud with this impressive and imaginative production.
Keith Hopper 26/6/2009