A Life of Lies
Harold Pinter's Betrayal
Ensemble Theatre | Sydney
directed by Mark Kilmurry
In Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, everyone cheats on their spouses. The play first appeared in 1978, with a plot that moves in reverse chronological order, and in some ways, we do have to go back many years in time to find an appreciation of the work. Its drama relies on a sense of scandal and taboo that is no longer scintillating. We may still hold the concept of marriage in high regard, and still be hurt by infidelity, but as a dramatic device, we have clearly become jaded and immune to its effects. Nevertheless, Pinter’s dialogue remains delightful, almost mesmerising in its lexical beauty. His sardonic expressions bear a seductive power that keeps us eager to hear more, if only for the richly evocative and ironic words that the characters say to each other.
The production is saturated with tension from the very beginning. Director Mark Kilmurry’s ability to engage our thirst for intrigue is put to good use here, as we find ourselves keenly following the plot, in anticipation of dramatic revelations, which unfortunately, the script does not always deliver. A minimal approach to its staging (designed by Anna Gardiner) ensures that all attention is placed on its cast of three very attractive players, each with their own allure, all skillful and committed in their respective characterisations.
The radiant Ursula Mills plays serial adulterer Emma, conflicted yet libidinous, with an impressive confidence that makes her part in the show powerful and surprisingly believable. Emma’s husband Robert is given excellent nuance by Guy Edmonds, whose dynamic depiction of a man betrayed, is perfectly measured. Robert’s best friend Jerry, who sleeps with Emma for seven years, is an energetic and affable presence in actor Matthew Zeremes, whose caddish but sincere approach protects the production from descending into melodrama. Comprised mainly of two-hander scenes, the actors manufacture great chemistry on stage for a cohesive and compelling experience, even if the play’s age does work against them.
Jerry’s wife and best friend both fail him, but he sticks around, accepting the betrayals with little resistance. Keeping calm and carrying on, the British gentleman is dejected but does not seem to demand more of life; it is not the end of the world, after all. His tolerance is perhaps not uncommon. We imagine married couples to be monogamous, however, what happens behind closed doors is anyone’s guess. Jerry has to keep up appearances, since everyone else does. We maintain a certain image required of us by society, even when under great hardship, because there are few things as painful as ostracism. We see the characters in Betrayal live their own lies and think about the price of truth. An authentic existence is an extravagance that many do not wish to pay for. What we are left with at the end, will only be tainted by regret.
photo | ©Clare Hawley