Pinter’s Betrayal at the State Theatre Company of South Australia

There is nothing new about infidelity, but there is always something fresh about Pinter. No wonder he got a Nobel Prize. His writing is incisive, perceptive and accessible, and Betrayal is one of the finest examples of his art.

Alison Bell in Betrayal. Photo by Shane Reid
Alison Bell in Betrayal. Photo by Shane Reid

This State Theatre Production, directed by Geordie Brookman, demonstrates the intense emotional partnership between Alison Bell as Emma, and Nathan O’Keefe as Jerry, with the sturdy Mark Saturno as Robert. Together this team brings to life an age-old problem in relationships, excruciatingly, realistically and convincingly, riding apparently effortlessly on Pinter’s incisive script.

The play opens at the end of the story, two years after the affair between Jerry and Emma, his best friend’s wife has ended. We are taken back in time over almost a decade through the various stages of the affair, and the play ends as we see the initial spark of passion which began it all. This is a neat device, very nicely brought off in this production, neatly assisted by the rotating rack of clothes and appurtenances for the set, designed and lit by Geoff Cobham, which so effectively marked and masked the efficiently managed scene changes.

It is not only infidelity on the part of a partner per se that brings betrayal. There is potentially a web of betrayal amongst people who, on the surface, are friends, but who also feel betrayed by the lack of trust, lack of communication, frankness and honesty that they superficially expect from each other. Pinter pertinently portrays this dynamic, made the more intense by the autobiographical recall of his own long-standing extra-marital affair. We see layers of betrayal: not only amongst the obvious love triangle, but also in the possibility of other affairs involving the cuckolded Robert, the friends Jerry and Robert cheating on each other in different ways, and perhaps some wandering intent by Jerry’s wife, as well as the sense of being left out of the loop of who knew who knew who was doing what with whom.

These actors superbly bring out Pinter’s depth of understanding of guilt, passion and love. Bell and O’Keefe show a masterful naturalness in handling Pinter’s long silences: subtle facial nuances were apparent from the second row of the stalls, and all three of the principal actors handled the range of emotions – guilt, love, desire, grief, fear – demanded by the script, brilliantly.

Be true to yourself move mountains to brave the cold and go and see it.

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