"snapshot memories plucked from time"
by Anna Marks for remotegoat on 23/02/16

Exeter Northcott's new production of Harold Pinter's Betrayal is a rare treat – luminous, puzzling and utterly absorbing. After a year in post, Paul Jepson makes his directorial debut – and it is a stunner.

Pinter's Betrayal begins in a pub and ends in a bedroom – or does it? The opening scene – London 1970s - finds Jerry and Emma in interaction over a drink. Their conversation is a beautifully constructed navigation through an arctic sea, topics float towards the participants like icebergs, clean pointy surfaces giving glints of the life-wrecking layers under the surface. Yet with deft touch on the tiller and eye on the compass, first Jerry, then Emma fends off and keeps afloat. We have all had these conversations, orbiting around what we need so badly to say. But can't, because ... pain, humiliation, vulnerability, middle class Britishness – who knows?

The play trawls back through time, sampling different layers of the story, significant snapshots in a triadic relationship – man, best male friend and wife/lover. The characters are reflections of Pinter, his lover of seven years - Joan Bakewell - and her husband but they are fictional creations and Pinter was always clear that Betrayal was a play, not a biography.

This production is captivating from the moment the characters slip onto the stage in their amazing slick seventies gear to the final scene wreathed in the fragrant smoke of the sixties. They have all lost nearly ten years. But it's not just maturity and wrinkles; all three are sadder, less hopeful, desiccated by the passage of time. The principal actors give uniformly strong performances. Pinter is not easy to interpret, but hey ho, plenty of room for creativity. Sarah-Jane Potts as Emma gives an impressively realistic interpretation, skilfully using broad range in her voice - caressing her lines and managing the breaks and pauses with techniques ranging from gently massaging to bouncing off a silence.

It is fascinating to see that this production has hallmarks of a period piece – and it's not even reached its half century. Staging Betrayal as of another era provides glorious opportunities for the set designer. Practically perfect in every way, this set is totally aesthetically satisfying; one could sit in front of it for hours, noticing the detail, watching the changes slide in left to right, top to bottom. It provides helpful signposts to time and place. Then it sort of unpeels as the layers built up over time are stripped away. Finally, at the end of the play, or the beginning of the story, the audience is directed towards a writer of fantasy and mysticism and a tale of enchantment of a newly-wed bride.

In this play however, no magic required. It seems as natural as breathing for the dynamic between bride, groom and best man to alter – and this is the genius of Pinter. There is no careful characterisation - just language, context and interaction. With a script notable for gaps and understatement, producing this piece is putting flesh on bones. It is rather like a therapy session, making the implicit explicit and finding ways to allow the characters to discover and tell their hidden stories.

Pinter's Betrayal is a brilliant piece of writing, the Exeter Northcott team have brought it to life. Recommended.

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