‘Betrayal’ Review: Pinter at the Pinter

Tom Hiddleston returns to the London stage for this haunting new drama

I am not the most avid theatre-goer, but when my mum and I were given the opportunity to see the revival of the renowned Harold Pinter play, ‘Betrayal’, starring Tom Hiddleston on 16th March, we couldn’t say no.  

‘Betrayal’ centres around three people: Robert (Hiddleston), his wife, Emma (Zawe Ashton), and his best friend, Jerry (Charlie Cox), who is also married, focusing on the affair between Emma and Jerry, and how it affects all three of them over the course of seven years. The play begins with Emma and Jerry meeting two years after the affair has ended and closes with them forming their secret relationship during a party. This reverse chronology is a signature style choice of Pinter, explaining how certain story elements came to pass in a fascinating way that couldn’t be conveyed if told in traditional chronological order.  

There are two adjectives I would primarily use to describe this production: ‘human’ and ‘stark’. All of the dialogue, despite having been written over four decades ago, feels natural and organic, filled with awkward pauses, over-analysis of words, empty promises of future squash matches and half-truths. Whenever the whole truth is told, however, is where the play and Pinter’s talent truly shines. The shame radiating from Ashton at the heartbreak written across Hiddleston’s face when she suddenly reveals her infidelity to him, and the shock in Cox’s when he learns that Robert knew about the affair for years illustrate how powerful a handful of words can be, emphasised by all three’s incredible performances.  

Sometimes, silence was the best storyteller as well, such as when Robert and Emma are passionately kissing, but she pulls away without verbal explanation in the absolute guilt of her actions, and when Jerry playfully tosses up Emma and Robert’s daughter, Charlotte, into the air during a Christmas party, all of them genuinely happy and laughing as friends should be for a fleeting second. I have never cried whilst watching a play; moments like these left a tragic, almost disturbing ambiance that the entire audience felt.  

Director Jamie Lloyd has done an exemplary job to maintain this story’s core: people’s relationships with other people and all that entails with that. There is no Broadway glitz and glamour here: created by Soutra Cilmour, all costumes are of ordinary modern-day garb and the set is entirely painted a clinical white, and the lighting, designed by Jon Clark, is either a harsh white or a sullen dark blue. All of this combined with a rotating stage drives home how much they literally revolve around each other, telling a simple yet hauntingly cyclical story of raw human emotion and betrayal.   

Amelia V