.backwards [pause] goes [pause] that [pause] play [pause] Pinter [pause] a [pause] enjoys BENNETT ABI
Corpus Playroom, 9-13th, 9.15pm. £5-6.
Directed by Oli O’Shea
The sight greeting me as I entered Corpus didn’t exactly inspire me with the confidence that this was going to be a great production. A3 collages of black monochrome photos and snippets of Yeats hung limply from the stained white walls, the cheap string and tape painfully visible.
Closer up, they worked a lot better. The backing was of different types of wallpaper, and the photos depicted various happy families – a neat, if unsubtle, thematic backdrop for a play. I think I was the only person who got up to examine them, however, so to everyone else in the audience they were just dubious wall-hangings.
The somewhat heavy-handed approach to the issues of the text continued into the production. The blocking wasn’t the most naturalistic; characters remained standing for almost entire scenes, and some were deliberately kept in shadow, but it felt dynamic rather than forced.
Similarly, scene changes weren’t done quickly in the dark, like theatre’s dirty little secret; they were accomplished in a wash of red light. The actors stayed resolutely in character as they moved the furniture, accompanied by interesting (though unobtrusive) music. This element was against the grain in terms of the usual, über-naturalistic style of Pinter productions, so if you have a well-defined concept of how his plays should be done you may find this staging too forced.
Direction aside, the acting was of an undeniably high standard. Adam Drew (Robert) brought a quiet menace to his character, successfully drawing the black comedy out of his lines. His portrayal of vulnerability turning into cold-hearted survival was masterfully drawn; bizarrely reminding me of Betty in Mad Men.
Theo Chester’s Jerry was almost too nice in contrast to Drew’s iciness. He was, however, brilliant at saying one thing while suggesting an entirely opposite subtext. The scenes between the two male leads – Jerry trying to ascertain how much Robert knew about his illicit affair with Emma – ratcheted up the tension. O’Shea brought out all the dramatic irony of a play where the audience know far more about each scene’s consequences than its characters do. Betrayal runs backwards chronologically, so the characters’ naïveté about outcomes we’ve already seen can be exquisitely painful.
Mention should also go to Deli Segal, who created an entirely believable, complex character. Even at the start of the play, left alone on stage, she wove a tangible spell over everyone watching, setting a pervasive tone of quiet absorption.
The only criticism I have is the lack of passion between Jerry and Emma. Whether this was a deliberate directorial decision is unclear, but they simply didn’t seem embroiled in a passionate, 7-year affair. All displays of affection between them felt forced, and although this kept the tension levels high, it undermined the veracity of their relationship.
Despite this, and the shoddy collages, Betrayal is something you should see; the standard of acting is incredibly high and I doubt you’ll see a better Pinter this year.