Harold Pinter Theatre, London – until 1 June 2019
Tom Hiddleston is sitting at the back of the stage, leaning against the wall one leg straight, the other bent with an arm resting on the knee.
It’s casual in that model photo way. There is nothing in his posture that gives away any emotion but his eyes, which gaze off to the middle distance, betray him. It’s subtle but he looks on the verge of tears.
This is the powerful essence of director Jamie Lloyd’s production of Harold Pinter’s play Betrayal. With a sparse script, there is a rich subtext played out in little looks, half smiles… and a glistening eye.
All three of the play’s main characters – Robert (Hiddleston), Emma his wife (Zawe Ashton) and Jerry (Charlie Cox) his best friend – remain on stage throughout. Lloyd uses the peripheral presence of a single character to powerful effect.
As Emma and her lover Jerry talk, Robert stands or sits not far aware or when the male friends get together, Emma’s binding presence lingers at the edges of the stage. The revolve is cleverly used; at one point Robert is sat on a chair, with his young daughter folded in his arms, slowly gliding closer and then away from his wife and best friend. It makes a dance of the betrayal, an elegant reminder.
Told in reverse chronological order, the play opens with the end of Jerry and Emma’s seven-year affair, the two discussing what they’ll do with the flat they’ve been using for their trysts. Their relationship ‘mends’ scene by scene and Robert and Jerry’s friendship grows less strained as the layers of betrayal are removed.
It’s a triangle where none are blameless and there is no obvious remorse. It’s a story that exposes the corrosive, selfish side of love, where knowledge delivers a kind of perverse power, manipulated for self-preservation.
Mostly, you have to look closely for the true feelings below the cool appearances – the glistening eye, the bitter smile. There is a lot of smiling: Wry, ironic, knowing, flirtatious, loving…
It makes those moments when reserve is put to one side explosive and pregnant.
Briefly, Emma and Robert’s passion for each other is reignited and they tear at each other’s neat, smart-casual clothing only for their feelings to be betrayed by their betrayals.
Similarly, Jerry and Robert’s boozy lunch is telling as anger and hurt is only narrowly misdirected under the influence of several glasses of wine.
Amid the tension there is an ironic humour, the betrayers feelings of hurt when they discover they have themselves been betrayed.
You need the laughs because it reminds you to breathe.
Hiddleston, Ashton and Cox deliver precise, layered performances in a production that grips with tension. I think Lloyd has saved the best to last in his Pinter at the Pinter season.
Betrayal is 90 minutes without an interval and is at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 1 June.
I’m giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
My other Tom Hiddleston reviews:
Coriolanus, Donmar Warehouse
I also saw him in Othello at the Donmar and Ivanov at the Wyndhams Theatre but sadly he doesn’t get mentions in my short reviews. I was an amateur back then, sorry.
My other Zawe Ashton review:
The Maids, Trafalgar Studios
My Charlie Cox review
Prince of Homburg, Donmar Warehouse
Also saw him in another Pinter play, the Collection back in 2008 but can’t locate my review, will add when I find it.
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