Jamie Lloyd’s adaptation of Harold Pinter’s epic is an impressive slow-burner to close his Pinter at The Pinter season – ★★★★

There’s a sense that Lloyd wanted his production of Betrayal to be a thrilling conclusion to his mammoth celebration of Pinter’s work, yet the result is more tense and meticulous than that. Pinter’s unique approach to pacing is evident – strikingly so – with some of his trademark pauses allowing time for heated and awkward exchanges to fester. It’s a play which, quite literally, takes its time.

Photo: Marc Brenner.

Tom Hiddleston is the publisher who finds out his wife (Fresh Meat‘s Zawe Ashton) has had an affair with his best friend (Daredevil‘s Charlie Cox), in a tale told in reverse-chronological order. The shocking revelation normally reserved for the climax is revealed at the very start of the play, and so it falls to the trio of actors on stage and Lloyd to keep momentum going across the 90-minute adaptation.

It falters at times, before being revived by humour dotted around Pinter’s script. Poorly timed pauses (a trademark of the playwright which is hard to correctly execute) and minimal dialogue both lead to the pace occasionally stumbling, yet it is in many ways a minimal production. Soutra Gilmore’s marble set design, though incredibly simplistic, exudes a gritty feel on par with the haunting tone of the piece. Hiddleston’s Robert is tight and reserved, Ashton’s Emma enigmatic and Cox’s Jerry an ordinary antagonist in the trio’s love triangle. Lighting – used sparingly by Jon Clark – adds a fresh cinematic ambience.

Even when the performers are not required for a scene, they linger in the shadows, stroking the walls of the set or staring out into the distance blankly. If it’s not the foreshadowing adding an intriguing depth to the on-stage discussions, then it’s the presence of the character in the background – often the individual the pair on stage are reluctant to acknowledge – which serves as a prominent visual reminder of context for the audience.

It’s something no doubt welcome considering the play’s unconventional narrative – one which doesn’t provide an explosive crescendo for a finale, but rather a satisfying conclusion to the production and indeed Lloyd’s Pinter season as a whole.

Betrayal is now playing at The Harold Pinter Theatre until 8 June.