The story of Jerry, Emma and Robert is told in a kind of reverse chronology of events as to how the trio’s love lives were once intertwined. Betrayal is a memory play.
Jerry and Emma meet in a bar in the opening scene. Conversation is polite and a little awkward. They haven’t seen one another for a long time, nevertheless, they are old friends who met many years previous through association with Emma’s husband, Robert. Actually, we learn that the two men, Jerry and Robert, have remained in regular contact. They still meet for lunches on occasion as they both work in publishing.
So, Jerry and Emma’s café catch-up is similar to when someone meets up with a Facebook friend. They appear interested to hear news about each other’s spouses and of the well-being of both sets of children, but as Robert remains a ‘mutual friend’ the pair are already, to some degree, aware of what has been occurring in each other’s lives. It’s that kind of conversation. As the talk progresses however, and tongues loosen after a couple of drinks the things they say becomes more intimate.
By the end of the first scene we have learned that Jerry and Emma were once engaged in an extra-marital affair and we know to some degree how that affair had been handled in secret from Robert, and from Jerry’s wife (who we never see).
Much of what is revealed in that first scene is hugely relevant to how the play is structured. In my mind, I landed on the mid-80s being the earliest time setting which happens overall, I only use the funk group Cameo vibe played as a clue to arriving at that assumption! This is the time when Jerry first ever makes a move on Emma at a party she is hosting, and it is this same social occasion that forms the final scene of the play. Actually, designer, Neil Irish has attempted to create a setting freed from a specific period, and because of his efforts, this fine production has a real contemporary feel.
With the exception of Scene One which takes place in front of the stage curtain, the rest of the play is performed within a giant, revolving Perspex ‘Memory Box’. As scenes change, those cast members that are not involved in the action at any one-time use hand-held cameras to zoom-in for close up shots of the character’s faces which are projected on massive screens up high and behind in black and white. Depending on the time setting and whether Robert is in the company of either Emma or Jerry at any one time, those faces at any one time can be of: the two faces of lovers-in-love; or the one face of an ex-lover confessing to a friend; the poker face of a lover deceiving her husband; the hurt faces of a couple breaking up, or a face with probing eyes. Technology utilised this way is a powerful addition to the story telling. Theatrical devices used and Lekan Lewal’s direction is expert.
Matthew Curnier plays the role of the Italian waiter at a restaurant where the two men meet for lunch, and he also has continued presence as a scene changer and is the main camera operator inside the box. I report strong performances by all three male cast members, and, having seen the stage work of Kemi-Bo Jacobs before, I, again, found her speech to be very monotone, but her acting finesse exceptional. An enjoyable first night reviewing theatre at Derby Theatre!
Review by theatre critic, Debra Hall who attended press night of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal at Derby Theatre on Tuesday 21 March 7.30pm