Honestly, the motivating factor for going to see ‘Betrayal’ was the chance to see Charlie Cox on stage given how much I loved him in ‘Daredevil’. I knew very little about Harold Pinter aside from his formidable reputation, the phrase ‘Pinteresque Pause’ and that he wrote a famous play called ‘The Caretaker’.

‘Betrayal’ is essentially a 3-hander (with a couple of very brief appearances from two other characters) where the three actors remain on stage for the 90 min duration of the play regardless of whether they’re in the scene or not. The story involves the affair between Emma (Zawe Ashton), wife of Robert (Tom Hiddleston), and Jerry (Charlie Cox), Robert’s best friend.

Told in reverse, the play opens with Emma and Jerry meeting up for the first time a couple of years after the end of their affair, the dialogue between them is beautifully naturalistic and awkward. The genius of the dialogue at this point is gradually and increasingly highlighted as the play goes on to chart various key points and then to culminate in the very beginning of the affair.

It sounds like a very simple story but without being mundane, it portrays very human, relatable emotions and situations. The technique to tell the story in reverse sounded daunting and at first I worried that it would be left to the audience to realise that one scene was chronologically before another but in this production, this was subtly projected above and below the stage. However, the audience does have some work to do in remembering where characters were emotionally and in their knowledge of events. It’s only towards the end that you fully appreciate the genius of this, at the time, ground-breaking way of telling the story as the betrayals deepen throughout and culminate in a heart-breaking and subtle gut-punch of a simple gesture.

Often, the scenes focus on just two of the three characters at any one time, with the remaining character lurking to the side or the back of the stage. Their presence is always there, for the audience and for the other characters. Only once did I see a flicker of interaction between the out-of-scene character and one of the in-scene characters and being so perfectly timed (I can’t express how well that was timed) it really felt devastating.

The staging is minimal in terms of actual things on the stage, aside from a couple of chairs, a table and some glasses;  the actors move and are moved round occasionally using the two parts of the central revolving stage.  What I found most effective was the use of light in this production; as the characters interact, shadows are cast at the back from a low light at the front positioning the characters almost metaphorically differently to where they literally are.

Tom, Zawe & Charlie are phenomenal in this; the focus and discipline this quiet, subtle, thoughtful piece requires really made me appreciate the skill of these three great actors.

I should also mention the use of sound; throughout most of the play there are some periods of incidental music as well as a beautiful version of Depeche Modes’ ‘Enjoy the Silence’ that punctuates a few moments towards the second half. However, it is the silences, those Pinteresque pauses, that are utter genius. This piece captivated the audience so much that despite it being coughing season (the end of the winter cold and the start of hay fever), you could hear a proverbial pin drop.

StoryHarold Pinter
CastTom Hiddleson, as Robert
Zawe Ashton, as Emma
Charlie Cox, as Jerry
DirectorJamie Lloyd
TheatreHarold Pinter Theatre
Date24 May 2019

All About Eve

There are some spoilers below but at the time of writing, the play’s run has ended and the film is 70 years old.

Playing at the Noel Coward theatre in London, this is based on an Oscar winning movie from 1950 by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and starring the inimitable Bette Davis alongside Celeste Holm, Anne Baxter (as Eve) and the vastly underrated Thelma Ritter.

It may have been written as a screenplay but it was ripe for adaptation to the stage given it’s subject matter. The play opens with Margo (Gillian Anderson) having just come off stage to be introduced by her friend Karen (Monica Dolan) to the ‘mousy girl in the trench coat’, Eve (Lily James). Eve is Margo’s biggest fan; she’s been at the stage door every night and attended every performance of her current production. Eve quickly, but a little implausibly, inveigles herself into every aspect of Margo’s life, making herself indispensable. Seemingly naïve at first, it slowly becomes obvious that Eve is very cynical, she has a plan and is playing the long game to attain her dream.

I felt that the play pushes the psychological aspect of the story further to the fore than the movie did and the stage production in particular reinforces that. Directed by the person responsible for ‘Lazarus’ a few years ago, Ivo van Hove, it’s no surprise that the staging is much different from what you’d expect in the West End. At key moments, usually larger gatherings and in one of the off-stage rooms (kitchen and bathroom), 2 camera-people mingle with the cast to get very close in on the action; a section at the back of the stage is where this extra bit of action is projected. There’s also a camera in the dressing table mirror so the actress’s faces can be seen by the audience. However, pre-shot footage from the mirror is also used to great effect in a few instances where we get the psychological take on the subjects’ state of mind.

The famous party scene (‘Fasten your seatbelts…’) is both hysterical (and shocking) where Margo gets increasingly paralytic and the party descends from polite, and a bit catty, to an embarrassing and unmitigated disaster.

Some of the UK casts’ British accents seemed a little ropey and ‘stagey’; I found it odd that Stanley Townsend chose a Southern accent for Addison Dewitt rather than go for the archetypal British villain sound executed by George Sanders.

It was a real privilege to see Gillian Anderson & Lily James on stage, Gillian exudes class but she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty in a fully-fledged and complex character such as Margo. As Eve, Lily James could easily taken the role from initially overly sweet and obsequious to the cartoonish, swivel-eyed sociopath but she manages to reign it in just to the point where both aspects of the character are portrayed more subtly and believably.

StoryJoseph L. Mankiewicz
CastGillian Anderson, as Margot Channing
Lily James, as Eve Harrington
Monica Dolan, as Karen Richards
Julian Ovenden, as Bill Sampson
DirectorIvo van Hove
TheatreNoel Coward Theatre
Date8 May 2019