Some experiences don’t improve with age. ABI BENNETT experiences a disappointing sense of déjà vu.

betrayal Corpus Playrooms freddie sawyer mark wartenberg stephanie aspin

Corpus Playrooms, 7pm, Tue 5th – Sat 9th February, £6/5

by Harold Pinter

directed by Freddy Sawyer

In November 2010, a much younger Abi Bennett wrote about another production of Betrayal. “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.”

Remarkably, I could just as easily have applied those words to the production of Betrayal I saw last night, again in the Corpus Playrooms. The exact same idea, with almost exactly the same photos: the only difference was that this time the collages weren’t quite so scrappy.

This underlines my main issue with last night’s production: at its heart there was a good show, but it was dressed with purposeless, clichéd “ideas”. The green wash and distressed voiceovers between scenes didn’t achieve their purpose, instead serving just to irritate. I understand the desire to contextualise the different scenes, and I agree that the script demands that the director create a sense of time passing, but this was clumsy and unoriginal.

Apart from this, the basis of the production was strong. Mark Wartenberg was particularly impressive as a brooding, latently violent Robert. He successfully brought out the black humour of his lines. The attraction Emma originally felt towards him made sense, something often missing in productions of Betrayal. The combination of his simmering anger and Stephanie Aspin’s scared fragility was arresting. Their relationship dynamic was compelling, and the constant threat of violence provided an interesting motivation for Emma’s affair.

James Ellis as Jerry was also strong, especially in the infamous restaurant scene. Strangely, though, the dynamic between him and Emma just wasn’t as compelling as that between her and Robert. Only in the final scene did you feel the emotions flowing between them; in the others it felt somehow stilted. The acting did occasionally feel superficial, but the depth shown elsewhere encourages me to think this was just first night nerves.

Director Freddy Sawyer handled the text beautifully, bringing out the unanswered questions at the heart of the text. Is Jerry Charlotte’s father? Is Robert secretly gay? Just how abusive is Robert and Emma’s relationship? I just wish Sawyer had felt confident in his ability to handle this human drama and not dressed it unnecessarily in silly fluff. This could have been beautiful, but as it was, it was merely good.