Betrayal ★★★★★

Jamie Lloyd poignantly and elegantly choreographs Pinter’s relationship dance through time

Jamie Lloyd’s brilliantly successful visionary season of Pinter’s work comes to a fitting climax with the playwright’s 1978 semi-autobiographical memory play. Betrayal plays its anatomy of an adulterous relationship backwards, beginning in 1977 (two years after it has ended) and ending where it began in 1968.

In Lloyd’s elegant stripped-back production, less is more as Emma (Zawe Ashton) and her ex-lover Jerry (Charlie Cox) begin by inclining towards each other from the chairs that are almost the only furniture on Soutra Gilmour’s simple pastel-shaded set, lit with golden subtlety by Jon Clark. The pair are watched at first from behind by Tom Hiddleston’s silent, still Robert, the husband and friend they betrayed for years. The smallest movement and change of expression take on significance. Hiddleston’s face poignantly conveys the hurt seething behind Robert’s apparently calm exterior.

Zawe Ashton (Emma), Charlie Cox (Jerry) and Tom Hiddleston (Robert) in 'Betrayal' directed by Jamie Lloyd.  Photo credit Marc Brenner.jpg

Yet, though infidelity is a given, if this is a dance through memory, it is choreographed for three and Robert is as much a dancer as the lovers. Publisher Robert’s relationship with his old friend Jerry, literary agent and best man at his wedding, has been a sort of bromance too, so sometimes it is Emma’s turn to sit it out while the boys meet for lunch or a game of squash. Ashton’s Emma is at once sensual and dignified, and above all vulnerable, aware of what’s at stake as she plays her different roles as wife and mother in the marital home and lover in the flat where she meets Jerry.

Cox’s Jerry is less affected by a situation of his own making, he brings a delicious, almost daring playfulness to the role in an evening surprisingly as full of laughs as it is of tension.

Tom Hiddleston (Robert), Charlie Cox (Jerry) and Zawe Ashton (Emma) in 'Betrayal' directed by Jamie Lloyd.  Photo credit Marc Brenner.jpg

Pinter’s repeats are even more telling, given that the action goes backwards – that this is a memory play in reverse. Lloyd intensifies a memory of Jerry tossing his friends’ three-year-old daughter in the air by creating the moment acted out on a stage that’s now revolving (Lloyd’s addition, it’s not in the text), here all the more extraordinary because a very young performer indeed makes (presumably) her stage debut.

Lloyd does more than interpret or even channel Pinter. He seems to build this play into a sort of metaphysical experience shared by actors and audience. This is extraordinary game-changing theatre not to be missed.

By Judi Herman

Photos by Marc Brenner

Betrayal runs until Saturday 1 June. 7.30pm, 2.30pm (Sat & Thu only). £15-£65. Harold Pinter Theatre, SW1Y 4DN. 084 5871 7615.

Read our reviews of the rest of the season: Pinter One & Two, Pinter Three & Four , Pinter Five & Six and Pinter Seven.