BWW Review: Director Jamie Lloyd's Subtle Way With Harold Pinter's BETRAYAL Makes For Riveting Storytelling
Tom Hiddleston, Zawe Ashton and Charlie Cox bring their tightly wound London performances to Broadway
The elegant economy of language with which a trio of romantically entangled souls express themselves in Harold Pinter's 1978 infidelity drama, Betrayal, allowing for unspoken emotions to subtly work their way to the surface, is beautifully enhanced by the production elements of director Jamie Lloyd's riveting London production; transferring to Broadway with its three exceptional stars, Tom Hiddleston, Zawe Ashton and Charlie Cox.
Inspired from the events of the playwright's own extramarital affair, the play begins in 1977 and works its way backward with every scene. But time and place are of little consequence in this tense and evocative staging. Set and costume designer Soutra Gilmour places the action in front of greyish panels on a stage furnished with little more than hardbacked chairs, while dressing the players primarily with dark shades. Lighting designer Jon Clark isn't averse to casting shadows.
It adds up to suggesting that the scenes we're watching are memories, but whose? When only two of the characters are involved with a scene, the third remains visibly onstage, like a thought in the back of someone's mind. The slow, unobtrusive use of a turntable enhances the notion of seeing the action as a series of passing thoughts.
The play begins with drinks between art gallery manager Emma (Ashton) and her one-time lover, literary agent Jerry (Cox). Emma, who is having an affair with one of Jerry's writers, is about to end her marriage to book publisher Robert (Tom Hiddleston), who is Jerry's best friend, because she's discovered he's been cheating on her. But Emma and the married Jerry were carrying on an affair for years during her marriage to Robert,
As time regresses from 1977 to the first inkling of Emma and Jerry's attraction in 1968, clues are revealed that will direct the action to where audience members know the situation is going, allowing viewers to determine who knows what about whom at any given time and discover how each uses their knowledge to their advantage.
One particular moment of innocent joy depicted late in the play is especially heartbreaking because it serves as a reminder to when it was referred to earlier.
The verbal thrills of Pinter's text arise from the fact that his characters are educated, literary people, well versed in the power of words - and the silences in between them - to attack and humiliate.
But what is also revealed by the tightly wound ensemble under Lloyd's guidance is that, despite the play's title, this is also a romantic tragedy, though one played out with carefully restrained emotions. One person's act of Betrayal can be another's act of uncontrolled desire.