In 1983, a terrific movie of Harold Pinter’s biographical play about infidelity “Betrayal”, made a clear case for the smartness of a backwards build. With Ben Kingsley as the husband and cuckold and Jeremy Irons as his best friend and Patricia Hodge, the screenplay, and, really, Kingsley slow burning anger as the husband, allowed us to see the reactions to betrayals before we have seen the betrayal itself by telling the story in reverse order -it was very English, it seethed but seldom spoke its name. Beginning with the final meeting between the friend and wife and ending with the first act of betrayal.
Throughout the movie, Irons and Hodge had a tangible and intense chemistry and Kingsley was a like a volcano about to erupt. By the end, when Irons professes his love, it is very very intense, it is, indeed, a little breathtaking.
The problem with the production directed by Mike Nichols at the Ethel Barrymore is, the acting isn’t strong enough, Rafe Spall as the betrayer Jerry and Rachel Weiz as the wife Laura have no chemistry and Daniel “Mr. Weiz” Craig’s Robert is not at all believable as the husband. There is a problem with the play, and that is that since we know how it ends, nothing that happens is a revelation. In this production the entire thing goes up in the second scene when Robert announces that he doesn’t care about the betrayal during the SECOND SCENE. Well, if the husband doesn’t care, why should we? We shouldn’t. We don’t.
Craig is a good 007 but he is too stiff for the role of the husband. Rafe is awful, there is nothing believable about his desire for Rachel. Rachel’s Laura is the best thing about the play, but she is no Blyth Danner. The trio are really sad, if I hadn’t seen the movie I’d have played Harold Pinter’s play, which seems to lack any big emotional moments. But that’s not true, “Betrayal” has the moments, what’s missing is the people to act them. Oh, and can I just mention that the last great play Nichols’ directed was “The Invention of Love”?
Kudos to the scenic designer Ian MacNeil, for a sleek, attractive, simple but useful stage design that slips seamlessly for year to year and flat to house to bar.
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