Uneasy Does It; This Play Is Pinterism by Stealth, Writes Thomas Calvocoressi

Article excerpt

Betrayal

Comedy Theatre, London SWI

If, during the first couple of scenes of Ian Rickson's new production of Betrayal, you're sitting a little too comfortably, thinking that Harold Pinter might have forsaken menacing absur-dism for middle-class melodrama (the play was, after all, inspired by Pinter's real-life affair with Joan Bakewell in the 1960s), the reverse time-travel of the subsequent scenes destroys any such notion. This is Pinterism by stealth, and all the more unsettling for it.

Kristin Scott Thomas is mesmerising, her signature tristfulness entirely apt for Emma -- the woman at the centre of this love triangle -- who is married to the publisher Robert but having (or just ending) a long affair with the literary agent Jerry, also Robert's best friend. Or is he? The way the characters dissect their relationships with each other betrays an unreliability of recollection that is a leitmotif of the play.

Douglas Henshall plays Jerry with a mixture of humour and quiet paranoia, his plodding Scots accent lending the character an affability that sometimes borders on disingenuousness, his fixed grin masking a kind of recklessness. Ben Miles as Robert, on the other hand, is classic Pinter, a dangerous manipulator whose temper may erupt at any moment; but then he is also the cuckolded husband, aware of the affair for far longer than he has let on, his pain palpable. …