Sunday, July 31, 2016

Betrayal by Harold Pinter

Guy Edmonds as Robert, Ursula Mills as Emma, Matthew Zeremes as Jerry

Betrayal by Harold Pinter.  Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli, July 16 – August 20, 2016.

Directed by Mark Kilmurry.
Designers: Set and Costumes by Anna Gardiner; Lighting by Christopher Page; AV by Tim Hope.

Performers: Guy Edmonds – Robert; Ursula Mills – Emma; Matthew Zeremes – Jerry.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
July 30

Harold is famous for the Pinter Pause, but the important question is What Happens when no-one is speaking because to do so might cause a speechless reaction?

The measure of the success of Kilmurry’s directing and, of course, the quality of the acting, lay for me in the reactions of the early middle-aged couple next to me.  They were about the age of the characters in the first scenes in 1977, and I suspect from overhearing some of their conversation that they were innocents in the woods of this kind of theatre.

They took their breaths in audibly at each moment of extreme embarrassment, laughed nervously as they began to cotton on to the layers on layers of betrayal.  Then there were silences of recognition as we finally watched Jerry’s drunken play for his best friend Robert’s wife, Emma, on their wedding day – way back in 1968.

Of course, they must have thought, all three really had known that they all had known in those earlier scenes, later dated, in the play.

Being at the Ensemble helped.  In another production of Betrayal, on an old-fashioned proscenium stage with a longish table in Jerry/Emma’s afternoons-affair flat (to display the tablecloth she bought in Venice with Robert), with a largish bar-counter for the pub scenes, as well as a round restaurant table and a full size bed for the Venice hotel and Robert/Emma’s newly-married bedroom, the play came over as very clever, almost too clever-clever.  The characters remained rather distant with all this clutter in a distant space.

In the close-up intimacy of the in-the-round small Ensemble, one felt with and for each of the three.  The reversal of time was not just a clever theatrical trick – it explained how the marriage of Robert and Emma could not continue, but also how Jerry was in the same boat – or fantasy gondola.

What I felt was really clever in this performance were the little signals. 

Jerry, later the writers’ agent, spoke poetically with real flair when drunk in 1968. Good writing on Pinter’s part, of course, but equally good acting by Matthew Zeremes.

Robert, the later hard-nosed book publisher, had always been tight and aggressive – even on the edge of violence, in playing squash and worse towards his wife.

Emma, who later escaped to run her own art gallery, was too easily taken in by these clever Oxbridge men and spent her life trying to maintain her personal strength and reasonable control of her life.

Three signals were given: when Robert made her afraid he would use violence (telling us that he really had even before Venice); when Emma briefly acted as a waitress clearing a restaurant table and then appeared in the flat with Jerry in the same apron-dress (which Jerry noted, showing how he was seeing her as a wife); and one which seemed to pass unnoticed when Jerry spoke to Emma but calling her Judith, his wife’s name.

It was this fine detail, and playing in a small space with minimal shifting of props as the scenes changed to the times and places projected on the wall, that made this production a success that I’m sure would have given even Pinter pause for thought.