THEATRE / The year the music died: Betrayal - WYP, Leeds

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Each scene in Betrayal, Harold Pinter's comedy of infidelity, leads us back through the Seventies to the ignition of the play's multiple betrayals in 1968. In Matthew Warchus's new production, the sound designer, Mic Pool, provides a distant, minimalist score; proper accompaniment to the detachment we are encouraged to feel towards the triangular entanglement of Emma, her lover Jerry and her husband Robert. Its coolness seems appropriate to the patina of restraint - it might be civilisation - which Betrayal's characters brush over their lives.

Then, for the play's very last moment, Pool shifts into a radically different emotional key, turning up the volume and blasting out the Beatles' 'Here Comes the Sun' - an anthem of anticipation for an exuberant freedom which, as we have just been carefully reminded, never came. Its ironic impact - perhaps as a Nineties verdict on the delusions of the preceding generation - is considerable, but its elegiac impact is even greater.

As we follow the threads back through the characters' involvement with one another, we expect to find the origin of Jerry and Emma's illicit passion and some conviction of its authenticity. But when we reach the beginning of the affair, it is cast over with the lilac hue of psychedelia, and when Jerry rhapsodises about the vision of Emma in her white wedding-dress it is a cliche of captivation. It is easy to sit back and observe the ironic gap between what begins in gladness and ends in a furtive correspondence and the 'quick lunch'.

What is more painfully involving is the realisation that the romantic epiphanies that the characters seize upon, however cliched, are their genuine fumblings towards a little ecstasy, an intensity that their diurnal round, however sophisticated, denies them. The trick of Pinter's narrative reversal is that we see these moments as forlorn before

we are privy to their pristine excitement. For instance, Emma (Leslee Udwin) has already fingered the Venetian lace table-cloth in wistful sadness before she joyfully unpacks it as an emblem of beauty for her and Jerry's secret flat. But, however compromised, these moments remain charged with life.

Similarly, the evocation of Robert (Timothy Walker) reading Yeats on Torcello, though a romantic stereotype, has force as we recognise the pathos of the urgency of his going there - 'wumpf to Torcello' - and its truth as a fleeting island of happiness.

Another moment that glistens, this time in Jerry's often unreliable memory, is of his throwing Robert's daughter into the air. This is neatly imaged between the scenes in Rik Boulton's film collage of the child's face overhead,

suffused as though in a cloud of glory.

Warchus's studied production presents as elegiac not what was, nor even what might have been, but an occasional imagining of some different, incandescent mode of being. This romantic emphasis may seem surprising in Pinter, a writer so often considered as definitively undeceived, even baleful in his vision. But, even in a character as deceiving and self-deceiving as Jerry (the excellent Richard Hope), a man who can summon up such an obliquity as 'I don't think we don't love each other', and blink with what might be genuine puzzlement, we do see some desperate apprehension of the glad day.

At the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds. Last performance tonight. Booking: 0532 448252

Comments