Last night MADF had the pleasure to welcome Bejou Productions to the stage to present their production of Betrayal by Harold Pinter. This play is inspired by Pinter’s own extramarital affair with TV presenter Joan Bakewell from 1962 to 1969. Pinter presents a play about middle-class adultery and guilt. However, it is rather more about subtext rather than text as the playwright not only tells a story of an affair, but highlights the many betrayals that occur through life, emphasising the self-betrayal that reoccurs throughout marital deceit, as well as alluding to time as a betrayer.
Betrayal is ultimately a story of middle-class adultery told as a web of betrayal. Pinter’s plot incorporates many transformations as time moves largely, but not entirely, in reverse chronological order starting in 1977, 2 years after the end of the affair, back to 1968 when the betrayal began. Emma (Joanna Mitchell) is married to Robert (Robb Stow) but is having an affair with his ‘best friend’ Jerry (David Streames).
As the adjudicator, Mike Tilbury, said Pinter’s drama needs “restraint, understatement and precision”, something which I believe the actors executed extremely well throughout their performance. The waiter (Michael Binder) simply highlighted this restraint through the excusing of Robert’s outbursts during the restaurant scene. Binder played this cameo role with great authenticity and he did not distract the audience away from the main action of the scene. Overall, the group of actors held a good pace throughout the production, however the pace did need to vary in Scene 1 just to ensure they held the audience’s attention. They had a brilliant use of pauses, holding them to their advantage to captivate the audience. The performance also showed an excellent group dynamic, you could clearly see that all the characters and the director had a good understanding of the play which shone throughout their show. Some scenes felt quite static and in particular the lover scenes in the flat lacked any real movement. These scenes came across very constricted because of the big table confining Jerry’s movements specifically, a point the adjudicator mentioned strongly. But, there were good contrasts between characters in various scenes, in particular Robert and Jerry in the bar scene and also Robert and Emma in the Venice scene. In the bar scene Stow’s Robert held a dominant presence and delivered the dark, comic lines of the scene with great timing. This contrasted well with Streames’ Jerry as he excellently portrayed the restless and neediness of the character, highlighting the irony of the betrayal Jerry feels. The Venice scene was another brilliant scene of Stow’s Robert with the good pause at the beginning, then building the pace towards the reveal of the affair, he rightfully dominated this scene. Another good contrast was portrayed by the characters in this scene, Emma was fear stricken and Mitchell played this role exceptionally with brilliant facial expressions and body language really forcing the audience to understand the character’s feelings. There was a strong performance from Mitchell throughout the show.
Clearly great thought went into Mitchell’s costume changes showing the change in period through the different outfits, however I believe that the men’s costumes could have varied more. To further enhance the change in time I think there should have been a more creative use of the set, perhaps different furniture and small props that epitomise the year could have been used.
However, the director, John White created a clever set design with the use of the rostra and the spaces around the stage to separate different scenes, this spacing and added level gave interest to the piece and allowed the audience’s eye to travel around the stage with the action. Furthermore, Richard Foster’s (Lighting/Sound) purposefully invasive lighting created an unsettling and personal surrounding for the domestic arguments and added to the separation of the scenes and spaces. Set changes were covered by thoughtfully chosen music, but the last costume change lacked any sound and the adjudicator advised the team to add background music to maintain the captivating, intrusive atmosphere that they had created.
Although the team could make some improvements on varying intonation, some more movement in some scenes and set design representing the change in time, I believe that Bejou Productions’ Betrayal was a “faithful interpretation” of Pinter’s work, something the adjudicator mentioned he was looking for in all our plays this week. The cast of four had a brilliant group dynamic, evident in the scenes I have mentioned previously, all of them acting with “truth and sincerity” another must for the adjudicator, creating a remarkable, naturalistic performance. Last night they set a high standard for the rest of the Easter Festival and the group made it a very pleasant, enthralling and striking experience.
- Megan Rossiter, MADF Official Reviewer