Reviewed by James Karas
A production of a play by Harold Pinter may be the last thing you would expect to see in Shanghai but that is precisely what I found in China’s largest city. Better still, director Philip Knight is a good ol’ Canadian boy from Stratford, Ontario and a graduate from the George Brown College Theatre School to boot.
Betrayal is Pinter’s partly autobiographical play and it is an interesting rumination on the subject of its title. It opens with the end of an adulterous relationship and moves chronologically backwards to the night of the seduction and the beginning of the treachery.
Jerry (Arran Hawkins) and Robert (John Prakapas) are best friends and business associates. Jerry is an authors’ agent and Robert is a publisher. They are such close friends that Jerry was Best Man at Robert’s wedding to Emma (Natasha Portwood). Soon after the wedding, Jerry and Emma begin a complicated adulterous relationship presumably without arousing any suspicion in Robert.
The plot unfolds in understated scenes where civility is largely maintained as grotesque treachery is committed and the façade of proper behavior is maintained.
Hawkins gives a fine performance as the betrayer. In the opening scene he learns that his friend has known about the adulterous relationship for years but has said nothing. He appears nervous and shocked but he betrays relatively little emotional turmoil. Hawkins bears some resemblance to the young Pinter and gives a sustained performance as a treacherous friend and a loving adulterer while it lasted.
Portwood is very good as Emma, the cool-headed adulteress who tells her husband of the affair but does not reveal the disclosure to her lover for a couple of years. Portwood shows Emma’s greater emotional depth and lesser scheming powers, if you discount her concealment from Jerry.
Prakapas as Robert the cuckolded husband is the weak link in the triangle. He appears too young and inexperienced as an intellectual, a publisher and an adulterer in his own right. Prakapas has an American accent (he is supposed to be an Oxbridge Englishman) and was not as convincing in the role as I would have preferred.
Knight directs with sensitivity and attention to detail. Aside from the inevitable Pinteresque pauses (happily not overdone), he pays attention to body language, right down to minute hand movements as the lovers’ relationship unfolds and deteriorates.
The set is a bare platform with a couple of chairs and a coffee table. The theatre itself is a large storage room or perhaps showroom that holds fewer than one hundred people on plastic folding chairs.
This may be theatre in the rough but it was a delightful find and a thoroughly enjoyable night at the theatre.
Betrayal by Harold Pinter played from November 14 to December 1, 2013 at Strictly Designers United, 55 Fuxing Dong Lu, Shanghai, China