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He Says: West End’s Betrayal Comes to Broadway

He Says: West End’s Betrayal Comes to Broadway

The future of an affair, in reverse, that’s the layout of Pinter’s Betrayal. Rotating against time within a stark white cube with shadows lurking on every wall daring us to forget the other. A triangle built with a ballet-like precision within a circle against a long rectangular wall. This is the essence of this masterful revival. They are poised for interaction from that first visual, one by one, in pairs (for the most part), as directed with tight thoughtfulness by the gifted Jamie Lloyd (Trafalgar Studio’s The Maids). The couples unwrap a series of betrayals, displayed quietly yet clearly between friends, lovers, and partners, served between sips as the clock turns backwards, beautifully structured and balanced, facing off against the things they don’t know are coming, but strangely we do. The pauses linger, and the responses to delicate questions are dangerously sharp and to the point, cutting to pieces the faith and trust of a marriage and/or a friendship. “I thought you knew that I knew“, but the smile and the astonished eyes say it all.

Tom Hiddleston and Zawe Ashton in BETRAYAL at London’s Harold Pinter Theatre. Photo by Marc Brenner.

It’s breathtakingly simple in concept and design, ending just as it is beginning, on a stage brilliantly created by Soutra Gilmour (Trafalgar Studio’s Apologia), with impeccable lighting by Jon Clark (West End’s The Inheritance), and solid sound and composition by Ben and Max Ringham (NT’s Tartuffe) that perfectly dictates the revolve. Director Lloyd fastens our eyes on the tableau out front and the background intensely, giving us the units speaking their truths shrouded with lies, while allowing the other, who is definitively being compromised by the fabrications, hover and flinch at the mention of their name. It’s an astonishing depiction of the jab of betrayal, watching the one affected listening in, but unable to respond directly. The eyes of Tom say so much more when the question of a “different life” is lobbed from one betrayer to the other. That piercing glare registers the wound with more clarity than one knew existed in Pinter’s text. The chill of the affair careens off the back wall and stabs at the heart of the resting child.Within this stellar production, Betrayal never lets us off the hook, repeating the idea that deception is happening directly in front, but the essence of the other lingers painfully in the back like a ghost. It’s a powerful altercation, starring the fantastically elegant Tom Hiddleston (Donmar’s Othello, “The Avengers: Endgame”) leaning in quite brilliantly as Robert, the husband. His tense ease fills the space with pain and anger as effortlessly as his wicked smile gives off a nonchalant passivity. Zawe Ashton (Royal Court’s Rhinoceros, ‘Velvet Buzzsaw’) as the sensual Emma, the deceiving wife, is graceful in her flirtatious ways, desperate for the physicality of attraction and attention, and the gloriously sexy and intense Charlie Cox (MTC’s Incognito, ‘Daredevil’) as Jerry, the best friend of Robert and the lover of Emma, fills the space with his need and casual disregard for the morality of friendship. He’s hypnotizing in his sensual obliviousness, or is it his sly mistakes regarding desire and entanglements that pulls us in? It’s deliciously deceptive and magnetically enticing, the three, never giving us a moment to detach. We stay, engaged in their entanglements, even in those moments of powerful quiet contemplation of the acts they are committing.

Charlie Cox in BETRAYAL at London’s Harold Pinter Theatre. Photo by Marc Brenner.

Strikingly heavy with the stillness breathing loud, this Betrayal strikes hard. The Pinter play was first staged in 1978 featuring Penelope Wilton, Michael Gambon, and Daniel Massey, but seen on Broadway in the 2013 revival starring Daniel Craig, his real-life wife Rachel Weisz, and Rafe Spall at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. Even though that production broke records in weekly revenue, the play felt fussy and overly produced, oddly stripped of its power and its passion.  Here void of locational references, the triangulational impact of the secrets and lies told within an extra-marital affair by all three lash out harder and pin point the pain of love and deception with an exacting punch. “He’s my oldest friend, how could you tell him?” Betrayal, it seems, is what they all do, to hold on to love and attachment, for the other and for the security within. And we are graced by the theatre gods to bear witness to it all, thankfully.

Zawe Ashton in BETRAYAL at London’s Harold Pinter Theatre. Photo by Marc Brenner.

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My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to

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