facebook play-alt chevron-thin-right chevron-thin-left cancel location info chevron-thin-down star-full help-with-circle calendar images mail whatsapp directions_car directions_bike train directions_walk directions_bus close spinner11
Following official government advice theatres are currently closed to help slow the spread of coronavirus. For more information on cancelled performances click here.

Betrayal

First Published 17 April 2008, Last Updated 21 April 2008

Written in 1978, Harold Pinter’s Betrayal is a portrait of an affair and the affect it has on the relationships between man and wife, two best friends and the lovers themselves. Though set in the 70s, the play’s themes of love, infidelity and friendship seem no less relevant now, as the play returns to London at the Donmar Warehouse, where Roger Michell directs. Caroline Bishop was in the first night audience…

Simplicity, in a word, sums up Michell’s production of Betrayal at the Donmar – at least, on the surface. William Dudley’s set is simple – white curtains are moved round on a train track of curtain rails to create the different scenes, a bed, a couple of chairs and a table being the only decoration on the wooden floorboards of the stage. The clothing worn by the trio of protagonists is unfussy, firmly of the 1970s without being overstated. A double bass provides the only music.

Pinter’s play uses a simple, yet cleverly effective device, to tell the story in reverse, beginning in 1977 and ending in 1968, with the dates projected onto the white curtains. Even the premise is simple – a straightforward affair (inasmuch as an affair can be) between two married people – as is the dialogue; what is left unsaid says as much as what is spoken.

Pinter’s story is an everyday one. Jerry (who is married to the unseen Judith) and married couple Emma and Robert are regular, middle-class, suburban media types, living a regular life with regular wives, husbands and children. The affair between Jerry and Emma is a regular one, with usual ups and downs, only unusual, perhaps, in that it lasted so long. This is a story that could be playing out behind closed doors anywhere, between anyone.

It begins in 1977, as Jerry and Emma meet for a drink, two years after their seven-year affair ended. The intriguing details they mention – a flat, Emma’s five-year-old son, old memories – are gradually revealed in more detail as the play goes back in time: to 1975, when they split up and sold their love nest; to 1973, when Robert found out about his best friend’s affair with his wife during a holiday in Venice; to 1971, when Emma finds herself pregnant; to 1968, when Jerry first seduces Emma at a party.

Toby Stephens is a laid-back, unruly-haired, beer-drinking Jerry, while Samuel West is a pretentious, old fashioned, whiskey-drinking Robert, and the interaction between the two provides much of the play’s funnier moments. The pair claim to be best friends – Jerry was best man at his friend’s wedding to Emma – and yet Jerry has no qualms about pursuing Robert’s wife, while West imbues Robert with a malicious power, once he finds out about the affair.

None of the characters is particularly sympathetic, though Jerry and Emma’s affection for each other in the early days is sweet and genuine. Pinter leaves you to come to your own conclusions about the entwined relationships between the three, and it seems, much is left simmering under the surface. The title, Betrayal, seems almost too grand for what is an ordinary story, but Pinter shows us the interesting in the ordinary. Even if it is played out in hush tones rather than dramatic gestures, betrayal is still betrayal.

CB

Share

Sign up

Related articles

If you click through to seat selection (where you'll see either best available or a seating plan), you will be seeing the most up-to-date prices. If this differs from what we've written on the calendar, please bear with us, as those prices will update soon.

We now sell our famous TKTS Booth discounts online here at Official London Theatre.

We are now cancelling all performances up until and including 31 May 2020 to help us process existing bookings whilst we wait for further clarity from the government in terms of when we will be able to reopen.

We are so sorry that in these testing and difficult times you are not able to enjoy the show you have booked for and hope the following helps clarify next steps in respect of your tickets .

There is nothing that you need to do if your performance has been cancelled, but we do ask for your patience.

If you have booked directly with the theatre or show website for an affected performance, please be assured that they will contact you directly to arrange an exchange for a later date, a credit note/voucher or a refund. If you have booked via a ticket agent they will also be in contact with you directly.

We are processing in strict date order of performance, so you are likely to be contacted after the date you were due to go to the theatre. However, we want to reassure you that you will be contacted, and your order will be processed, but please do bear with us.

We’d like to thank everyone who has been patient and kind in dealing with their ticket providers so far and we are sorry that we cannot process your order as quickly as we would like.

Please do not contact your credit card company as that will slow the process down and put an additional burden on our box office and ticket agent teams.

In order for us to serve our audiences the best we can, please do not get in touch with your point of sale if you have booked for performances after 31 May. Please be reassured that if we have to cancel future performances you will be directly contacted by your theatre or ticket provider. Our producers continue to plan for all eventualities dependent on the individual needs of their shows and we will provide further updates on specific shows as and when they become available.

We look forward to welcoming you back into our theatres as soon as we are allowed to resume performances. In the meantime stay safe and healthy.