Friday, 9 March 2012

Pinter Pondering

Apart from being Dominic Hill's brave statement of intent for the future direction of the Citizens (see every review so far...), Betrayal is one of Pinter's most immediate and accessible plays. A straight-up study of marital infidelity, it might have a reverse narrative, but it lays out the deceit and self-deception concisely and clearly. Lacking the existential dread of his earlier, more famous pieces like The Birthday Party or The Dumb Waiter, it is more mature and knowing script, unsparing in its attention to detail and - if the origin stories are true - Pinter's own personal misconduct.

The shift from the nameless horror that lurked in the earlier plays to a more humanist understanding lends Pinter both compassion and a more unflinching vision. Whereas The Dumb Waiter borrows heavily from the absurdity of Beckett - the two characters wait on mordant instructions, and the menace comes from the power wielded over them by a faceless voice - Betrayal acknowledges that the pain and disaster of life comes from the behaviour of humans.

In Hill's version, the cuckolded husband is a monster (Cal Macaninch has a glint in his eye that would face down Dr Doom), yet very human: whether his cold savagery is simply a character flaw or the consequence of his wife's betrayal is left open, but understandable. Even the lover - also the husband's best friend, and most likely based on the author - is revealed as weak and hopeless: his seduction of the wife is pretentious and immature. In turn, this leads to questions about the wife's willingness to be led astray.

The magic of Betrayal is in leaving open questions without being blandly ambiguous. As the play continues, apparent lies are revealed to be truth, and the meaning of throwaway references (to Yeats and squash) becomes obvious. It is a simple story, given nuance by Pinter's skill of observation. The pauses - which can be patches of murderous darkness in The Dumb Waiter, are now the ambivalent silences that allow the audience to listen to their own thoughts on this unholy trinity's sexual misadventures.

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