Harold Pinter's Betrayal

Revival on Broadway

By: - Oct 11, 2019

 “I have often been asked how my plays come about. I cannot say. Nor can I ever sum up my plays, except to say that this is what happened. That is what they said. That is what they did.”– Harold Pinter, taken from his 2005 Nobel Prize Lecture

Having seen Betrayal  years ago and remembering virtually nothing about it, I thought that this play, based on Pinter’s seven-year extra-marital affair written in reverse chronological order, was a one-trick pony.

This production of Betrayal,  enforces that had Pinter chosen to tell this story from its beginning to its end instead of from its end to its beginning, he would have delivered a predictable play.  Instead we have an electrifying journey to remember. 

Betrayal, arguably Pinter’s most-produced play, had its American premiere on Broadway in 1980. Directed by Peter Hall, it starred Raul Julia as Jerry, Blythe Danner as Emma, and Roy Scheider as Robert.

A second Broadway revival, was staged in 2000 at the Roundabout’s American Airlines Theatre directed by David Leveaux starred Juliette Binoche, Liev Schreiber, and John Slattery.

The last revival, directed by Mike Nichols, starred Daniel Craig as Robert, his real-life wife Rachel Weisz as Emma, and Rafe Spall as Jerry. It opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in 2013. Gussied up with a lot of overt sexuality (kisses where none were called for in the original script), it was not particularly well received.

Transferring from a successful run in London this past spring it is again on Broadway. Running through December 8 at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.  There have been positive reviews for both its director Jamie Lloyd, its English cast Tom Hiddleston, Zawe Ashton, Charlie Cox, and the play’s pitch-perfect technical team.

Rarely have scenic and costume design (Soutra Gilmour) and lighting design (Jon Clark) lifted a production this close to heaven.

For those unfamiliar with this three-character play – the wife Emma (Zawe Ashton), her husband Robert (Tom Hiddleston), and her husband’s long-time best friend Jerry (Charlie Cox), also Emma’s long-time lover – covers a span of seven years in reverse order.

Except for an occasional chair or table and a glass or two, the play’s action – all the better for the audience to see, hear and mentally stabilize their bearings – takes place on a bare stage against an unfettered, variously lit, slate gray background. It  acts as a blackboard on which all is writ.  Here we are transported to restaurants, bars, Jerry and Emma’s home, a hotel in Venice, and a rented apartment where Emma and Jerry conduct their clandestine love affair.


The play opens in 1977 at a restaurant two years after Emma’s and Jerry’s seven-year affair has ended. It seems that Emma, still sentimental about their good times past, and perhaps still attracted to him, has called Jerry out of the blue to inform him that she is divorcing Robert. She recently told her husband about their affair.

Being Pinter, not everything said by the play’s characters is true. Ms mixed feelings, hidden emotions, betrayals, lies, and untold secrets, are a large part in this, as well as his other plays.   

Through eight moving and oft surprising scenes we are brought back to Emma’s very first, not-so-innocent attraction to Jerry, and his sudden declaration of love. The year was 1968.

There are riveting scenes between best friends Robert and Jerry. Particularly poignant is when Jerry confesses that he had been sleeping with Emma. Robert, cool, collected, and totally unfazed, tells a shocked Jerry  that he knew all along. 

There has been love between both men since college days. It's like the film Jules and Jim (1962).  That both men were in love with the same woman, andsleeping with her, brought them even closer. Both men, poetry editors at their respective colleges, work in the same field. Robert is a publisher (he claims to hate modern novels and loves Yeats), and Jerry is a literary agent.

We are privy to Robert and Emma’s heated confessions  about indiscretions during a vacation on the island of Torcello. Surprisingly, the usually self-contained alpha male Robert is brought to tears as Emma details how long, when, and where her trysts with Jerry took place.

Matching Pinter’s laying down of words is the slow pacing and tableau-like posing of the actors. They resemble snapshots. Or better yet, with Jon Clark’s front lighting that casts a shadow on the back wall for each actor, a trendy fashion shoot. Shadows suggest the characters' other selves.

Oft times, totally wordless, again matching the Pinter’s scripted moments of silence, the actors are seen just looking at each other.  It gives us plenty of thinking time as to their motives, if not their next possible move.

The director has all three actors, whether they are in the scene or not, on stage at all times. Most ominously is Hiddleston’s Robert who is seen lurking in the shadows in just about every Emma and Jerry two-handed scene.

An effective directorial and set designer touch is the production’s use of a revolving turntable built into the stage.  When in use it has the characters coming close and being pulled apart as they circle each other.   

What we have been experiencing, backwards of course, is the breakdown of love and its inevitable fading. It presents friends and lovers lost in a web of their own spinning.       

Cast:  Zawe Ashton, Charlie Cox, Tom Hiddleston, with Eddie Arnold |
Technical:  Scenic & Costume Design: Soutra Gilmour, Lighting Design: Jon Clark, Sound Design & Composition: Ben & Max Ringham

Betrayal opened on Broadway on August 14, 2019 at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre at 242 West 45th Street. A limited run it closes on Sunday, December 8, 2019 Playwright: Harold Pinter. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes with no intermission. For more information, or to buy tickets check out or call 212- 239-6200.