Pinter’s Betrayal in York

The enduring popularity of Pinter’s plays is both intriguing and reassuring: intriguing because it is not obvious why his work which is, for the most part, elusive should  have such appeal; reassuring because it reveals that in a period when, with cuts in public funding, the future of serious theatre in the regions is under threat, drama of high quality can still attract audiences of a reasonable size. Admittedly Betrayal which has just completed a successful run at York’s Theatre Royal is not a “difficult” play. It is clear what it is about – an adulterous affair – and there is no mystery regarding the characters and their identity. The fact that chronologically it goes backwards rather than forwards may at first be disconcerting, but we readily adjust to it, and in the end appreciate it as a dramatic device  because it deepens our understanding of how and why relationships evolve.  But if we know how it will end, why do we find the play so compelling?

Pinter’s dialogue has a mesmerising effect, partly because. with its rhythms, repetitions and pauses, it resonates like music. More importantly, because it provides hints, but is never too explicit, about what drives the characters’ behaviour, it get us, the audience, to reflect on what they are up to and why – in the case of Betrayal, on love, loyalty and friendship, on lust, selfishness and deceit. Full marks to all involved in the York production: the actors Mark Hesketh, Amanda Ryan  and Mason Phillips,  totally convincing in their triangular relationship; the designer Dawn Allsop and composer Dominic Sales, who created with minimal input the atmosphere of the 1970s; but above all the director Juliet Forster who paced the production to perfection, and avoided excessive and obtrusive movement on the stage.