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THEATRE: 24 JULY 2016

By TONI CARROLL

Betrayal, by Harold Pinter | Directed by Mark Kilmurry

Ensemble Theatre (http://ensemble.com.au) | Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli, Sydney | Until 20 August

Life is messy. Navigating and maintaining relationships is like walking a true path in an earthquake. The words and behaviour of our friends, our lovers, our spouses represent the shifting ground beneath our feet.

We’re constantly having to readjust our perceptions and subsequent actions according to new information and the actions of others as they occur.

Or as we find out about them.

Harold Pinter’s Betrayal captures this messiness and changing landscape as we, and the characters, discover the layers of betrayal within the lives of two couples.

Jerry and Emma had an affair — hidden love nest and all — for five years, betraying Emma’s husband Robert. Jerry’s absent wife, Judith, is also betrayed.

But betrayal is not just about romantic affairs. It can be about so much more than just being unfaithful.

Jerry has also betrayed best friend Robert.

Cheating lovers and friends can betray each other through lies and hedging the truth, like misleading them about when you confessed an affair to a spouse …

These other betrayals are teased out as we experience the story of these two couples backwards in time.

We first see them at the stilted, still emotionally-charged, end when Emma tells Jerry of her separation from Robert two years after the affair has ended.

The plot then moves back through time to the night Jerry first declares his love for his best friend’s wife.

This was revolutionary in the 1970s, but allows us to view the relationships more intellectually.

If the plot ran chronologically, we could easily become emotionally involved in Jerry and Emma’s relationship, and so lose some ability to view the betrayals philosophically and on a broader scale.

The fine cast is on point in filling Pinter’s characteristic silences and economic language with electricity.

But Matthew Zeremes (Jerry) seems to have a little difficulty in fully easing into the playwright’s rhythms, providing less light and shade than is required.

Ursula Mills (Emma) has a stillness that captures the audience’s attention and conveys so much emotion with such understatement.

But Guy Edmonds is the standout as the betrayed and betraying Robert.

His performance masterfully captures the aggressiveness bubbling under the surface of the character and, in fact, the play itself.

The ensemble has all worked well with director Mark Kilmurry to make us not just squirm in our seats with the discomfort of eavesdropping on betrayal after betrayal, but to find the dark humour within these imploding relationships.

Designer Anna Gardiner has created a look for the production, in set and costuming, that provides a neutral backdrop to the simmering emotions of the characters.

Minimalist, and in white, black and beige hues, it reflects the timelessness of such human foibles and interactions.

It could be set in any period, but still be relatable, although it must be said that Robert’s casual references to domestic violence did touch a nerve in the 2016 audience — yes, a low collective gasp could be heard throughout the theatre — that it would not have in the 1970s.

The Guest and I could not stop raving about this show on the drive home.

It really is worth seeing, even down to the scene changes.

Unlike most changes without curtain, they were unhurried and the actors remained as much as possible in character as they removed glasses and tables, brought on new props, and took their places for the next scene.

This may sound like a small thing but is significant for the audience.

The scene changes worked to increase the dramatic tension by not letting us go, not letting us breath between scenes, not allowing us to ground ourselves back into contemporary reality and relax before delving back into the world of the play.

Well done to designers and actors both.

Above: Guy Edmonds and Matt Zeremes. Below: Matt Zeremes and Ursula Mills. Images: Clare Hawley.