Review: Betrayal. Derby Theatre.

Harold Pinter’s play, Betrayal, is in impressively safe hands at Derby Theatre under Lekan Lewal’s intelligent and totally assured direction. Lewal has been enjoying an 18 month residency at Derby Theatre under the Regional Theatre Young Director Scheme funded by the Arts Council. He has been mentored by artistic director Sarah Brigham and Betrayal is his main stage debut. Some in Lewal’s shoes might have gone down the ‘flash young – let’s be diverse and perverse – thing’ route in hoping to display their noisy theatrical talents to the world at large. However, Lekan Lewal’s own directorial talents appear to be more subtle and mature than that; yet still retaining many profoundly individual and very exciting sparks of invention that light up the stage dramatically in a challenging play that, potentially, could lose the attention of many an audience member under a different command. In short, Betrayal is a great theatrical success well worth applauding for both Derby Theatre and certainly, Mr Lewal.

Pinter’s famed economy of words works well within this play about extra- marital affairs amongst the literati elite. Much is conveyed with body language and pin sharp vocal nuances by the four strong, exemplary cast. Without too much theatrical digression the play is cast younger than traditional and the play is made contemporary rather than set in the 1970s. As well as the expected lust there are clever sexual manipulations afoot and plenty of Pinter’s tinder dry humour in amongst the dramatic high points. Patience pays great dividends in all of Pinter’s plays, especially this one.

Human torsion – the twisting of relationships and multiplicative examinations of the very word ‘Betrayal’ form the base of the play’s fascinating thematic journey. What is betrayal? Is it other directed or a self imposed condition? Such conjectures establish the intrigue of Pinter’s fine play and there are as many answers as there are audience members. Maybe more.

In this Derby Theatre production there is clever use of hand held lightweight industrial video cameras. Throughout the action their constant and betraying focus is in capturing the darkest and finest emotional and physical minutiae of the actor’s feelings and responses. The resultant imagery is writ large on the back wall of the stage for all to see. Throughout the many scene changes (live on stage and as part of the action) we are party to many a moving collage of introspection and reflection on the previous scene’s main pivotal points. The overall effect is enthralling.

The resulting filmic effect has the audience virtually complicit in the voyeuristic nature of the story telling. In short we, the public onlookers, become a load of quasi intelligent nosy Parker’s. Our assumed super- intelligence is cunningly informed by the fact that the drama is played in reverse order. As we mentally collude in the onstage infidelities there appear to be many an actual knowing nod amongst us, to an apparent common theme in relationships growing and falling dramatically apart. Like anguished and foolishly doting lovers, indirectly going through terrible relationship traumas, we hang tight until the bitter end hoping upon hope that things will work out OK. Just as long as we ourselves don’t get ‘betrayed’ along the perilous way.

Kemi -Bo Jacobs (Emma), Philip Correia (Jerry) and Ben Addis (Robert) each offer out subtly terrific performances perfectly balancing Pinter’s acute text craftsmanship and observations into the building and demolishing of inter – marital relationships. Addis’ Robert is especially creepy in the way that, controlling, domineering and undermining personalities, unfortunately can be when let off the proverbial leash. The romantic relationship between Emma and Jerry is particularly well actualised, believably deconstructed and somehow comes across as more meaningful than Emma’s brittle and shallow marriage to the snobbish Robert.

Interestingly, the poor actor who normally, very very briefly, plays the Italian waiter (Matthew Curnier in this cast) is given lots to do in this sterling production with its added ingredient of the video camera work. Saying that, Curnier is also linguistically superb as the Italian waiter. One almost feels like throwing a well deserved tip on the stage despite the lack of a main meal on the table.

Neil Irish’s revolving see through set design invokes the dimensions of the much referred to squash courts but could also be interpreted as a physical containment of the emotional fireworks on stage. Another interpretation might be that it depicts a kind of human conservatory – an add on – to personal comfort and domesticity – a see through affair (see what our reviewer did there?) where relationships become as fragile as the glass in the frames. What is that expression about ‘throwing stones’?

Paul Arditti’s (sound designer) beautifully understated and near constant low key dramatically sympathetic score throughout the piece gives this production of Betrayal a stunning feeling of something rather cinematic. Coupled with the filmed visuals and contorted aural flipping back and forth of repetitious dialogue Arditti’s work lifts a good production to a play version bordering on sublime.

‘A masterful production about the dangers of affairs of the heart by the late Harold Pinter and Derby Theatre.’

Photos by Robert Day.

Reviewer: Phil Lowe.

Betrayal runs at Derby Theatre from 17 March to Saturday 1 April.

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