Betrayal at Soulpepper remains timelessly compelling

Andrea Donaldson's production of the Harold Pinter classic about an affair still resonates


BETRAYAL by Harold Pinter (Soulpepper). At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House). Runs to September 22. $38-$98. 416-866-8666. See listing. Rating: NNN


Back in February, to the delight of Harold Pinter-starved theatre lovers, Soulpepper staged Little Menace: Pinter Plays, an anthology of 10 shorts by the acclaimed British playwright. It was basically a collection of dramatic hors d’oeuvres. Currently, the better-known Betrayal is playing, a meatier full-length work. Although this production isn’t quite as deliciously biting as its predecessor, Pinter’s perennial themes still resonate.

A married couple, Emma (Virgilia Griffith) and Robert (Jordan Pettle), face challenges when Robert’s friend and colleague Jerry (Ryan Hollyman) initiates a clandestine affair with Emma. Pinter explores the trio’s evolving interrelationship in an intriguing way: he presents the scenes moving backwards in time. The play begins post-breakup in Spring 1977 and concludes in Winter 1968 on the cusp of the affair.

Under Andrea Donaldson’s direction, the production gains momentum as it progresses.

The first scene feels tentative and the setting is unclear due to the placement of the actors on Ken MacKenzie’s sprawling, open-concept set (which is nonetheless beautifully era-evoking and works well in later scenes). At times, the British accents tend to waver. However, by the second scene the actors find their footing, the characters become firmly established and the pacing picks up – in fact we literally hear the sound of a clock ticking in the background.

It’s fascinating to watch the intensity of the affair grow as the play progresses. Hollyman’s Jerry is layered, at times weary, paranoid and a startlingly bold drunken Lothario. Pettle’s Robert keeps us on tenterhooks, waiting to see if he’ll snap. And Griffith’s Emma undergoes the most noteworthy personal transformation of the three.

Although Pinter’s text includes both funny and serious moments, this production leans toward the dramatic. This is further enforced by the haunting music that plays between scenes. In fact, sound designer/composer Richard Feren’s atmospheric audio becomes intrinsic to the play. For example, the sound of an airplane engine at the beginning of scene five instantly signals that Robert and Emma have gone on vacation.

Betrayal can be performed with or without an intermission and Donaldson wisely chooses the latter. Those famous Pinter pauses could be more thoroughly explored and exploited, but this onstage peek into relationships and infidelity remains timelessly compelling.

@somanydreams

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