By THE ENTHUSIAST
The Pause That Refreshes
Harold Pinter, of course, is famous for peppering his plays with pauses – the very antithesis of David Mamet’s rat-a-tat dialogue. One of Robert’s speeches in the play’s second scene, for example, reads as follows:
You look quite rough.
What’s the trouble?
It’s not about you and Emma is it?
I know all about that.
If you like that kind of thing, well, you’re going to love Betrayal. All three of the central actors honor Pinter’s plentiful pauses as though taking the time to prove a particularly tricky mathematical theorem in their heads between lines. Which sounds dreadful, I know, but is actually powerfully affecting.
Tom Hiddleston, Zawe Ashton & Charlie Clark
All three are nothing less than terrific. Gaunt, precise, damaged and damaging, Hiddleston demands your attention at every turn, even when he’s doing nothing but brooding in the background. Clark is every bit his equal, showing us his flash, confidence and charisma along with his blithe, cold-souled willingness to take what he can get – just because he can, as Dolly Parton put it in "Jolene." And Ashton is a revelation as Emma, at once alluring and so in all-too-obvious need of being reassured that she’s alluring – a weakness that Clark's Jerry immediately senses and Jolenes.
Director Jamie Lloyd, scenic and costume designer Soutra Gilmour and lighting designer Jon Clark strip Betrayal down to the barest and most unflinching of sets: a few flats and scrims, a couple of chairs, a folding table, a tablecloth. That’s it. And it’s a world.
Tom Hiddleston’s Hair
Tom Hiddleston’s Hair should have its own billing. It’s true – the marquee should read: Tom Hiddleston, Tom Hiddleston’s Hair, Zawe Ashton & Charlie Clark. It looks for all the world like the hair of a young Franz Liszt. In the restaurant scene with Hiddleston, Cox and a beaming, Corvo Bianco-bringing waiter (Eddie Arnold), I found myself watching the shadows they cast instead of the actors themselves – sharp, dark shadows that highlight every mesmerizing strand of Tom Hiddleston’s Hair. A special Tony for THH cannot be ruled out.
When Emma reveals to Robert that she’s been having an affair with his best friend, Jerry, for the past five years (oh, come on now, you don’t need a spoiler alert when the play is called Betrayal), it occurs to Robert that Jerry may actually be the father of his one-year-old son, Ned. When Emma reassures him that Robert was out of the country for two months when Ned was conceived, Robert asks if she wrote to let Jerry know that she was pregnant, to which she answers (after a long pause, natch) “Not by letter.” A woman a few seats down the aisle from me gasped at this point and said – very much out loud – “What? Really?" Now, one could put this down to yet another theatregoer unaware that that she’s not watching television, but The Enthusiast chooses to see it as a reflection of the primal power of Pinter: drama so engaging that you can’t help but react as though you actually know and care about the people you’re watching onstage. Though he does encourage you to take a long pause before saying such things out loud.
The Enthusiast (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the pen name of critic Michael Collins. He reports back only on what’s good, never what’s bad. But what he declines to praise can speak volumes.