Tom Hiddleston, Zawe Ashton and Charlie Cox play the three points of Harold Pinter’s adulterous triangle in Jamie Lloyd’s superb production from London.
by David Rooney
Reverse chronology has become a familiar narrative device in film, but when Harold Pinter employed it in 1978 in his blisteringly personal drama about an extramarital affair, Betrayal, it was still uncommon enough to become highly influential. It makes the drama start from a place of awkwardness steeped in grief, two years after the illicit liaison has finished, and end at the beginning, with a rapturous sense of secret possibility, marbled by the deep vein of melancholy present from the first scene. That emotional complexity smolders like hot coals in Jamie Lloyd’s expertly calibrated production, transferring to Broadway direct from its hit London engagement.
The headline news is the commanding Broadway debut of Tom Hiddleston, taking a breather from the Marvel Cinematic Universe to revisit the stage roots to which he has returned periodically throughout his career. The coolly charismatic star is matched at every step by Zawe Ashton and Charlie Cox, the latter trailing his own Marvel association from Netflix’s Daredevil.
Lloyd staged Betrayal, one of the tightest and most straightforward (albeit back to front) of Pinter’s full-length plays, as the unorthodox culmination of an acclaimed London season of the dramatist’s one-acts. The director’s feeling for Pinter’s tricky rhythms, his freighted silences, glacial distances and brittle intimacies is unerring, evident not just in the dialogue-driven moments but also in the physical staging, the austerely elegant design choices, the stunningly descriptive use of shadow in Jon Clark’s lighting and the precise attention to movement.
The action unfolds in bars, restaurants, family homes, a regular assignation address and a Venetian hotel. But designer Soutra Gilmour’s set is a simple, stark rear wall in slate gray that makes intimate advances on the actors at times, with a sparingly used turntable that suggests the unkind passing of time, even as the scenes play out in backwards order. Among the few props are two chairs, the glasses or bottles required for a variety of alcohol, cigarettes, of course, and only late in the play, a table with an Italian linen tablecloth that becomes the saddest sight you’ll ever see.
The three principal actors are onstage for the duration, with the third player at first remaining detached in the background through each of the mostly two-character scenes. But almost imperceptibly, the tiniest flicker of reaction begins playing across the face or in the body language of the silent additional presence as key information is divulged, twisting the knife as to who knew what and for how long. It’s a masterstroke of direction, adding lacerating stabs of hurt to a drama in which none of the protagonists is overly sympathetic.
The parties involved, all in their mid-30s, are Robert (Hiddleston), a London publisher; his wife Emma (Ashton), who runs a gallery; and Jerry (Cox), a literary agent who also has an unseen wife at home. Each couple has two children. Complicating the seven-year affair of Emma and Jerry is the friendship of much longer duration between Robert and Jerry, who was best man at their wedding. The two first met when both were bright young things editing poetry magazines, Robert at Oxford and Jerry at Cambridge.
Pinter, and in turn here, Lloyd, get much mileage out of the urbane sophistication of these very English characters, consistently testing the strain beneath their polite small talk and practiced civility, with an edge of formality even between spouses and lovers.
It’s thrilling when the simmering rage beneath Robert’s smooth, at times bordering on smug, surface bubbles up, for instance in a discussion of the male ritual of a squash game followed by a pint at the pub and then lunch, his exclusion of Emma delivered like a casual body blow. Or during one such lunch with Jerry, when he rants about the tediousness of launching a novel while ferociously attacking a plate of prosciutto and melon. That his anger is never directed openly at its target doesn’t make it sting any less.
But it’s in those moments when the armor of Robert’s composure is pierced by vulnerability that Hiddleston’s performance truly dazzles. A scene in Venice, during which Robert dances around his suspicions to the point where Emma reads the knowledge of her transgression in his eyes and chooses that moment to confess, is made all the more wrenching by its restraint. As they sit side by side and she provides key details — location of their trysts, how long it’s been going on, reassurance about the paternity of their youngest child — Robert stares straight ahead, impassively absorbing the full impact as his eyes pool with tears. The generally guarded Emma’s sudden emotional release is quite different, but no less affecting in Ashton’s self-possessed but finely layered performance.
Lloyd’s brisk scene transitions add texture to the drama throughout, notably when that painful exchange segues to Emma and Jerry meeting at the suburban flat they’ve been renting, the shadow of their embrace seeming to infect the still-seated Robert like a virus.
The uncustomary choice to show one of Robert and Emma’s children (an adorable girl played at the performance reviewed by Emma Lyles) also pays off. Repeated reference is made to Jerry tossing her up in the air and catching her one afternoon in their kitchen — or was it his? It rips your heart out to watch the child giggle with joy when that happens before curling up in her father’s arms to sleep as Emma then meets with Robert early in their relationship, seemingly contemplating making a permanent change.
It might be argued that Lloyd’s repeat use of a chilled-out, female-vocal cover of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” is a little on the nose for Pinter (“Words like violence / Break the silence”). But the effect is powerful and the music choices, including Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Norwegian electronic duo Royskopp, help thread one scene to the next, as words and wounds bleed into the spaces between.
At the beginning of the play (which is the end of the story), Robert’s infidelities also have contributed to end the marriage, two years after Emma has broken off the affair with a still-aching Jerry. But of the three, Jerry is arguably the only one who wears his guilt visibly. The excellent Cox plays that burden with a palpable sense of the pain beneath Jerry’s studied attempts to keep things light and breezy. His declaration to Emma in the final scene, at the start of their love story, is one of the most searing Pinter monologues — ecstatic in its expression of romantic feeling and yet desolate in the awareness that Emma is condemning Jerry to a kind of exquisite misery.
“I can’t ever sleep again, no, listen, it’s the truth, I won’t walk, I’ll be a cripple, I’ll descend, I’ll diminish, into total paralysis, my life is in your hands, that’s what you’re banishing me to, a state of catatonia, do you know the state of catatonia? Do you? Do you? The state of… where the reigning prince is the prince of emptiness, the prince of absence, the prince of desolation. I love you.”
Those last three little words never sounded so doomed. The smile of contentment as Robert interrupts them, entering the room from the party all three are attending, seems veiled on Hiddleston’s face with a suggestion that he already sees what’s happening. And Lloyd stages the closing moments like a mournful dance, anticipating the pain of what’s to come.
It’s just six years since the last sizzling Broadway revival of this work, directed by Mike Nichols and starring Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz and Rafe Spall, all in top form. But this very fine production makes an absolutely compelling case for returning so quickly to the play, in which betrayals cut in every direction — between couples, friends and within the characters themselves. Lloyd and his actors illuminate a glimmering darkness in the drama, a deeper well of sorrows that linger in the air even after the cast take their bows.
If there’s one nagging issue, it’s with the audience, not the production. While it’s great for business that fans flock to Broadway to see an MCU star like Hiddleston showing consummate skill, the constant laughs at inappropriate moments must be distracting for the actors, particularly in the many moments of quiet devastation. Sure, there are sparks of dry humor throughout Betrayal, but c’mon people, it’s Pinter, not Upright Citizens Brigade. It’s for grownups.
Review: Tom Hiddleston in a Love Triangle Undone by ‘Betrayal’
Mr. Hiddleston, Zawe Ashton and Charlie Cox portray three friends in flux in Jamie Lloyd’s revelatory interpretation of a Harold Pinter classic.
By Ben Brantley
How can a naked space seem so full? Feelings furnish the stage in the resplendently spare new production of Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal,” which opened on Thursday night at the Bernard Jacobs Theater, and they shimmer, bend and change color like light streaming through a prism.
Directed by Jamie Lloyd — and acted with surgical precision by Tom Hiddleston, Zawe Ashton and Charlie Cox — this stripped-down revival of Pinter’s 1978 tale of a sexual triangle places its central characters under microscopic scrutiny, with no place to hide. Especially not from one another, as everybody is on everybody else’s mind, all the time. They are also all almost always fully visible to the audience.
This British version is the most merciless and empathic interpretation of this much performed work I’ve seen, and it keeps returning to my thoughts in piercing shards, like the remnants of a too-revealing dream. I had heard good things about this “Betrayal” when it debuted in London earlier this year, but I didn’t expect it to be one of those rare shows I seem destined to think about forever.
“Betrayal” was dismissed as lightweight by Pinter standards when it opened at the National Theater in London four decades ago, and hearing it described baldly, you can sort of understand why. The high concept pitch could be: “Love among the literati in London leads to disaster, when a publisher discovers his wife is having an affair with his best friend!”
True, the play had an unusual structure, with its reverse chronology. (It begins in 1977 and ends in 1968.) Early critics regarded this as an unnecessary and confusing gimmick. As for all that brittle, passion-concealing wit and straight-faced deception, wasn’t that the stuff of old-guard West End masters like Coward and Rattigan?
With subsequent productions and a first-rate film in 1983 — featuring Jeremy Irons, Ben Kingsley and Patricia Hodge — earlier naysayers began to perceive a creeping depth and delicacy in the work, which for me now ranks among Pinter’s finest. Curiously, despite three starry productions (the most recent led by Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz), “Betrayal” has never been done full justice on Broadway.
Mr. Lloyd’s interpretation balances surface elegance with an aching profundity, so that “Betrayal” becomes less about the anguish of love than of life itself. Specifically, I mean life as lived among people whom we can never truly know. That includes those closest to us; it also includes our own, elusive selves.
The three central characters here are Robert (Mr. Hiddleston); Emma (Ms. Ashton), his wife, a gallerist; and Jerry (Mr. Cox), a literary agent who was the best man at their wedding. Though the majority of the scenes are written for two, Mr. Lloyd keeps all his main characters onstage throughout. (He has also taken the liberty of introducing a fifth, silent character, in addition to the Italian waiter, played with gusto by Eddie Arnold, who appears in the original text.)
That means that when Jerry and Emma are in the rented, out-of-the-way flat where they meet in the afternoons, Robert is present as well — silent, unreacting and at some distance from the others, but undeniably there.
The hoary saying about three being a crowd comes to mind. But then sexual betrayal is inevitably crowded, isn’t it? The absent figure in the triangle is always there as an obstructive phantom, so that no interactions are unconditionally between two people. To borrow from Peter Nichols, whose “Passion Play” is my other favorite 20th-century drama about infidelity, adultery adulterates.
Mr. Lloyd’s “Betrayal” makes us feel this premise all the more acutely, by offering no distractions from the wounded and wounding souls at its center. As designed by the ever-ingenious Soutra Gilmour, and lighted with whispering subtlety by Jon Clark, the set remains a sort of modernist blank slate, like an abandoned contemporary showroom — or, perhaps, laboratory. Nor do the cast members ever change their clothes.
This means the focus is unflinchingly on how these friends and lovers behave, and on the distance between them (wonderfully underscored by a slyly, slowly moving stage). What they say is often as trivial as the most basic small talk. In Pinter, the greatest dramatic weight lies in what’s unspoken, in the darkness of unsorted feelings.
The three principal performers here allow us uncommon access to that darkness. They each achieve a state of heightened emotional transparency. And what we see, in their faces and bodies, and feel — in the less easily described energy that reaches across the footlights — is a harsh and beautiful muddle.
Pinter, like Chekhov, understood that reactions never come singly (though the shrilly opinionated discourse on social media today might lead you to think otherwise). The word “ambivalence” doesn’t begin to cover the thoughts in play in the first scene, when Jerry and Emma uneasily meet in a pub, two years after their affair has ended.
Emma has initiated this encounter. But as played with breathtakingly clear confusion by Ms. Ashton, she can’t explain why she did so. She’s looking for something she misplaced once, or let time carry off, but you know she can’t put her finger on what it is.
As played by the excellent Mr. Cox (best known here as television’s “Daredevil”), Jerry is less palpably unmoored; he would seem to have a thicker skin. And this shifts the center of “Betrayal” to its portrait of a marriage and its corrosive secrets.
As slender and sharp as a paring knife in his dark navy clothing, Mr. Hiddleston’s lacerating Robert seems to live in a state of existential mourning. He can be wittily combative, most memorably in a brilliantly staged restaurant scene with Jerry.
But you’re always aware of the regrets, the uneasiness, the sorrow behind the unbending facade. The scene in a Venice hotel room when he ever so gently, confronts Emma with evidence of her infidelity is almost too painful to watch. What you are witnessing is the conclusive collapse of a marriage’s fragile and necessary structure of illusions.
As a marquee name of films and tabloids, Mr. Hiddleston is the obvious draw here. But it’s the relatively little-known Ms. Ashton (who is also a playwright) who is the breakout star. And her deeply sensitive performance elicits a feminist subtext in “Betrayal.”
Power is a governing dynamic in Pinter. And I’ve seen productions in which Emma, as the only female onstage, emerges as a crushable odd-woman out in a boy’s club society. It’s telling that in this production she is the only major character who doesn’t wear a jacket or, more surprisingly, shoes.
She reads as more vulnerable because of this, but also as more humane and more open to figuring out just what has happened. Emma wants so much — professionally, romantically, domestically. And she’s harrowed by the realization that nothing she thought she had has ever been solidly hers.
More than ever in this version, which features a melancholy soundscape by Ben and Max Ringham, “Betrayal” becomes an elegy about time and memory, in which nothing stays fixed or certain. There’s new resonance to the continuing references to a joyful moment when Jerry threw Emma and Robert’s little girl into the air at a family gathering.
It’s mentioned in the very first scene, when Emma and Jerry meet again. The problem is they can’t agree on where the event happened, in his kitchen or hers.
Ms. Ashton’s Emma tries to conceal how much this small discrepancy upsets her, but her eyes are brimming. She thought she’d always at least have this memory intact — a vision of everyone, together, happy for a moment. It turns out she was mistaken.
‘Betrayal’ Broadway Review: Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Cox & Zawe Ashton In Pinter’s Affair To Remember
By Greg Evans
Secret love shacks, or love flats as the case may be, notwithstanding, no affair is an island built for two – there’s always at least a third person in the mix, typically considered the betrayed. In Jamie Lloyd’s masterful revival of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal – one is tempted to call it a reinvention, so deeply and definitely urgent is his take – three of the ever-shifting betrayers and betrayees occupy the stage at all times, one or another bearing silent witness as the other two enact an affair’s all-too-familiar scenes of lies, transgressions, excitement and the love that, at least fleetingly, prompts it all.
With a starry, pitch- and picture-perfect cast imported from the smash London staging – Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Cox and Zawe Ashton – Lloyd’s staging of Pinter’s 1978 masterpiece, opening tonight at Broadway’s Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, Betrayal feels at once classic and altogether contemporary, a seamless weaving together of elements, from the fashionably spare stage and boho chic costumes to the director’s impeccably timed shuffling of characters from stage spot to stage spot, era to era, high mood to low.
Presented in reverse chronology – we meet the characters years after the end of the affair (though certainly not after its consequences) and follow them in scenes that scroll back to the first flirtation – Pinter’s play debuted five years before Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s backward musical Merrily We Roll Along, the play victorious over the structure’s challenges in ways the musical rarely accomplishes.
Lloyd’s staging, unhurried but never dawdling, glides through the emotional time tunnel as each scene, or, rather, each encounter of the characters in configurations of mostly two, occasionally three, flows with the certainty of logic. Or maybe it just seems logical in the hindsight built into the structure. Either way, each and every meeting of these characters is something of an “a-ha!” moment, leaving us convinced we’ve just been handed a crucial piece to a puzzle.
Our first meeting is with Jerry (Cox) and Emma (Ashton), whose seven-year affair (she’s married to Jerry’s longtime best friend Robert, played by Hiddleston) has been over for some years now. She’s called him, seemingly, out of the blue, and their wistful meet-up is loaded with the “You think of me sometimes?” and “I remember” aches and pains that lose none of their haunting durability for having been spoken.
Seated closely in two hard-backed chairs on the otherwise empty stage, Emma takes her time getting to the point: She wants Jerry to know that she has confessed all to Robert, just last night in fact. Hiddleston’s Robert silently watches the encounter just as we do.
Next comes the gobsmacked and guilt-ridden Jerry’s quickly arranged meeting with Robert, his intention apparently one of too-late confession and perhaps forgiveness-seeking.
Robert’s confused, though. Emma didn’t spill the beans last night, but rather four years ago. The betrayed husband has known everything, through all the increasingly infrequent boozy lunches that had the husband and his seemingly clueless best man continuing a friendship now revealed in all its shabby dishonesty. The betrayer has become the betrayed, and not for the last time.
As Betrayal unfolds in reverse time to the first stolen kiss between Jerry and Emma seven years prior, we learn perhaps more than we’d care to about these attractive, bookish and stylish intellectuals (Pinter based the play on his own real-life affair). Our empathy for the cuckolded Robert diminishes when he owns up to hitting Emma “once or twice” merely because he felt like giving her a good “bashing.” The affable Jerry seems appropriately conscience-stricken, right up to the early point when we discover his backstabbing intentions. Even Emma, so smart, witty and beautiful, won’t get out of here unscathed.
Played against simple, mottled gray panels on a near-bare stage (Jon Clark’s lighting design casts doppelgänger shadows, and Soutra Gilmour did the very effective scenic and costume designs, indicating no era, certainly not the ’60s-’70s period Pinter intended), Betrayal showcases three of the best dramatic performances currently on a New York stage. In their Broadway debuts, Hiddleston (The Avengers), Cox (Daredevil) and Ashton (Velvet Buzzsaw) prove what London theatergoers have long known: Each holds the stage with a conviction that’s unbeatable. The compelling Hiddleston might get top billing, but his co-stars are no less commanding.
As the stage revolves and shuttles them to and fro, giving visual force to Pinter’s movement of these characters each through the others’ lives, Lloyd expertly focuses our attention on the performances. Aching, wistful and wounding, the director’s staging of Betrayal presents three friends and lovers trapped in an undoing of their own making, their inevitable self-destruction no less powerful for showing itself before the happier days.
THEATER REVIEW: A HIGH-POWERED NEW BETRAYAL
By Sara Holdren
Near the end of Betrayal—or near the beginning of the betrayal within Betrayal, since Harold Pinter’s 1978 play about a seven-year affair runs in reverse, from the infidelity’s aftermath to its inception—a soused would-be lover rattles on a bit: “Look at the way you’re looking at me. I can’t wait for you, I’m bowled over, I’m totally knocked out, you dazzle me … My life is in your hands, that’s what you’re banishing me to, a state of catatonia, do you know the State of Catatonia? Do you? Do you? The state of … where the reigning prince is the prince of emptiness, the prince of absence, the prince of desolation. I love you.”
In the royal family of Western drama, Pinter himself might be exactly the figure his intoxicated, infatuated character describes. His laconic, subtly brutal plays—known for the loaded pauses that now bear the writer’s adjectivized name—float precariously on a dark reservoir of things unsaid. His characters are like those waterbugs who balance above the depths on the delicate force of surface tension. He is not a universal taste, and mediocre Pinter productions have their own particular kind of cringiness: They feel like acting exercises. Even in sure-footed ventures into the Pinterverse—such as Jamie Lloyd’s lean and sexy revival starring Tom Hiddleston, now visiting New York after its London premiere—there can be an element of technical gloss to contend with. You can feel, as I did, like you’re watching Good Actors Acting Well, which is a matter of intellect rather than emotion. Impressive and interesting, yes. Devastating? (Pause.) Well.
Lloyd’s production is cool, confident, and mercifully aware of Pinter’s sense of humor. Some of its strongest moments are its unsmiling jokes, which Lloyd’s actors attack like fencers, pricking without overextending. Hiddleston—with his fixed blue stare and his ability to lock his jaw into a mask of British propriety, unmistakably undergirded with menace—is particularly adept with the playwright’s distinctive rhythms, his smirks, evasions, and threats. A vapid conversation between Hiddleston’s character, Robert, and his best friend Jerry (Charlie Cox) about whether boy babies are “more anxious” than girl babies becomes a master class in hard-edged, straight-faced comedy. But then the whole play has that “master class” feel to it: As much as the phrase has become a critical cliché for a tour de force, it’s not the same thing as “masterpiece.” There’s expertise on display, but there’s an academic distance to it too.
Part of the distancing effect might be that Hiddleston undoubtedly outshines his fellow actors, who are solid (and equally great-looking — this is Pinter with highly paid personal trainers) but never quite as at home in the material. Cox comes close, and indeed, his role gives him less of an ability to stand still and shoot lasers from his eyes, as Robert gets to. He has to maneuver, stumble, and course-correct more, and he does so with a bemused, affable charm that belies a deeply selfish character. Part of Betrayal’s fascination is that Jerry, who’s been having a hidden affair with Robert’s wife Emma (Zawe Ashton) for seven years, is in fact the “Pinter” role. From 1962 to 1969, Pinter himself concealed from his wife an affair with the BBC presenter Joan Bakewell (for her highly compelling take on their now immortalized-if-somewhat-fictionalized infidelity, click here). It’s arguable, though, that for all the playwright’s own experience inside a dangerous liaison, his play belongs not to the betrayers but to the betrayed. At least in Lloyd’s production, Robert—his moment of awakening and his eventual hardening of himself as a result—is the heart of the show.
It’s structural—the torturous scene in which Emma admits the affair to Robert sits smack-dab in the middle of the play—but it’s also a matter of actor and director inclination. As Robert learns the truth about Jerry and Emma, Hiddleston sits stone still and silently weeps until the snot hangs in ropes from his nose. There were quiet gasps in my audience when it started to drip, unheeded by this broken man in his moment of crisis. “Ah. Yes. I thought it might be something like that, something along those lines,” says Robert, with extreme Britishness, when Emma confesses — but there’s so much raw emotion pulsing underneath Hiddleston’s performance, and overflowing its container in this one pivotal scene, that the character can’t help but become the play’s tragic center. The way Hiddleston plays Robert, it’s difficult to believe it when Emma tells Jerry, “You know what I found out… last night? He’s betrayed me for years. He’s had… other women for years.”
Despite the real power of Hiddleston’s performance, that empathy gap strikes me as a flaw. We can’t quite take Emma at her word (we’ve also heard her lie on other important matters), and so the scales of Lloyd’s production end up tipped rather than balanced. It seems to be a play about a victim and two perpetrators — but I think it’s a play about three people, all of whom we should empathize with, all of whom we should mistrust, all of whom are capable of great selfishness. Ashton has the hardest job: Emma’s got that sense of mystery about her that sometimes happens when men, even very talented men, write women. The scenes between Robert and Jerry, though often tense and terse, feel lived, red-blooded, affectionate. Emma often seems ethereal — her motivations and actual desires somehow far away. (For a real bust-up of that trope, get into Bakewell’s essay — there’s no mystery woman there; instead there’s a super-smart Cambridge grad who was expected to become a housewife and mother at 25.) The character is already the most opaque in the play, and Ashton’s performance doesn’t do much to elucidate her. Tall and willowy, with bare feet and a dancer’s limbs, she tucks her hair behind her ears, tilts her head and half smiles. It’s clear she likes Jerry’s attention, but it’s not clear where her own deep hungers lie. Lloyd has her leaning into the enigmatic aura Pinter gave Emma, and it renders Ashton less visceral and—and this is the real problem—less sympathetic than her male counterparts.
Still, Lloyd’s stripped-to-the-bone approach to the play’s environment lets the text breathe and stretch. We can really hear Pinter’s words pinging off the big blank wall of Soutra Gilmour’s set, with its neutral palette and vast, clean emptiness that put us in mind of the art gallery where Emma works. In this white box, the three actors move like dark ghosts, memories of themselves with all the clutter stripped away. They turn slowly on a big revolve, and, crucially, Lloyd keeps all three present throughout, so that the shadow presence of the third always influences scenes between the other two. The staging restores some of the balance that’s lost in the performances. It brings back the sense that any affair, especially one that involves friends, is in fact a triangle, and that out at the corners of such a hard, angular form, even in our desperate flight from loneliness, we’re more isolated than ever.
‘Betrayal’ review: Jamie Lloyd, cast triumph with superb Harold Pinter revival on Broadway
By Matt Windman
I am hard-pressed to think of a better production of a Harold Pinter drama to play New York in over a decade than this sharp and absorbing London revival of 1978’s “Betrayal.” Directed by Jamie Lloyd, the relationship drama stars Tom Hiddleston (Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe), Charlie Cox (“Daredevil”) and Zawe Ashton (“Velvet Buzzsaw”). All three are making their Broadway debuts.
Pinter, who won the 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature (before his death in 2008), can be a difficult nut to crack for many theatergoers. One is either mesmerized by his menacing, pause-filled psychological dramas (such as “The Homecoming, “The Caretaker” and “The Birthday Party”) or finds them to be puzzling, inert and empty — as I admittedly often do.
But the stars seem to have aligned in the case of this revival of “Betrayal,” which also happens to be one of Pinter’s simplest and most accessible plays — far more so than works like “Old Times” and “No Man’s Land,” which have played Broadway in recent years.
To get a sense of how excellent this production is, one need only look back on the lackluster and lifeless 2013 Broadway revival of “Betrayal,” which was directed by Mike Nichols (unfortunately his last show on Broadway before his death) and starred the real-life couple Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz.
“Betrayal” studies an extramarital affair between Emma (Ashton) and Jerry (Cox), who happens to be the best friend of Emma’s husband, Robert (Hiddleston). Its scenes are played out in reverse chronology (from 1977 to 1968) in order to expose what is often left unsaid by the characters (including knowledge of their lies) but is nevertheless reflected in their pauses and reactions.
Lloyd’s production treats the play as a dance of desire and angst among the three characters. In scenes with only two of them, Lloyd keeps the third onstage, reflecting the pervasive and perverse interplay among them. What would feel unemotional and empty in lesser hands instead makes for compelling theater here.
All of the slick design elements — lighting, sound, costume, set, turntables — merge together beautifully to support the concept. Likewise, the performances represent an ensemble triumph, with Hiddleston’s bitterness, Cox’s softness and Ashton’s restlessness working off each other to produce unrelenting tension and dynamic results.
If you have never seen a production of a Pinter play out of concern that it would be too strange or confusing, this is the one to see. On the other hand, Pinter aficionados ought to be able to appreciate why this production stands above and beyond so many other recent revivals of the playwright’s work.
Bottom line: Best Broadway revival of a Harold Pinter drama in over a decade.
Tom Hiddleston is perfectly cast in riveting revival of Harold Pinter’s ‘Betrayal’ on Broadway
By CHRIS JONES
Tom Hiddleston, the star of Jamie Lloyd’s eye-popping revival of “Betrayal,” now on Broadway in a transfer from London, is a pretty perfect Pinter player.
He’s capable of great warmth but also a dangerous growl. He can shed a vulnerable tear when a scene so demands, and he does, but he’s also craggily commanding in his movie-star way, his very physical presence implying that no one who has been caught up in his romantic orbit ever is likely to fully escape. In this lean, incisive, oft-revived three-hander from 1978, Hiddleston plays Robert, whose wife Emma (Zawe Ashton) is having a long-term affair with Jerry (Charlie Cox), who just happens to be Robert’s best friend from college.
“Betrayal,” a favorite among actors and directors for its orgy of delicious subtext spoken and left unsaid by highly intellectual characters, travels backwards in time. You first see an affair ended and then one beginning. Sometimes the audience knows more than the characters; often the characters know more than the audience.
But the key scene comes in the juicy middle, the one where Robert finds out that his wife is not his alone. It’s at this juncture that this existential affair asks its most central question: What’s worse: Your spouse having an affair or your finding out that your spouse is having an affair?
Maybe what you don’t know cannot hurt you. But it might just kill you first.
And that’s where Hiddleston most thrives: You feel for his cuckolded husband and you fear him, as do both his wife and her lover, neither of whom really know what they are doing or what the consequences of their act will turn out to be. That’s the main paradox of “Betrayal,” how an expression of love and raw desire can also uncap a bottle of poison in a marriage, leading everyone down a path of risk and, let’s be honest, heart-racing excitement.
The play, based on Pinter’s real-life shenanigans, hardly is an argument for boring fidelity. We’re all too animalistic for that, it says, in a blast from a very different, maybe unwelcome but surely more honest era. Yet, let’s not forget, what is more tender than the touch of a lover having a secret tumble?
What makes Lloyd’s minimalist (and thus expansionist) production different from every other revival of this work is its relentless focus on triangulation, and its subtly wrought ability to remove Robert, Emma and Jerry from any particular chronological moment, sending them spiraling through time like bodies and minds linked in eternity.
When the woman is with the lover, the husband is there. When she is with her husband, the lover is there. When the lover is with the husband, the wife is never really absent, however much these battling men might otherwise pretend in the most bro of moments together. You don’t feel her like Cox’s Jerry could ever stand up to Hiddleston’s Robert, but then that’s the point. For Emma, whom the very physical and fascinating Ashton interprets as a woman pushed and pulled every which way, this illicit love-making in a secret flat, feels here like it must be blissful relief from the intensity of the man she married. And loves.
To put all that another way, this consistently riveting “Betrayal” (which is very shrewdly designed by Soutra Gilmour, Jon Clark and the clever sound team of Ben and Max Ringham) takes a play that is usually composed of well-spoken, overprivileged and unlikable people and strips them of their posh accents and pretentious feelings, revealing the scared and sharp-toothed critters underneath. And yet it also understands that infidelity has a sweet and gentle side. If it didn’t, it would not remain so popular. Cheaters often crave the everyday feelings most of all.
Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Cox, and Zawe Ashton command a smart, stripped down Betrayal
By Allison Adato
In the canon of infidelity drama, Harold Pinter’s Betrayal may hold the distinction of being the least … adulterated. A lean story of a seven-year affair between a woman and her husband’s best friend, it isn’t weighed down by details of dreary marriages intended to make the lovers more sympathetic. Nor does it detour into too-typical revenge fantasy: After the woman confesses to her husband, both the affair and the marriage carry on — as does the two men’s friendship. If you enjoy your tales of extramarital liaisons with, say, a side of boiled rabbit, Betrayal may not be for you.
But as a focused exploration of human duplicity, Betrayal is an unembellished marvel and this Broadway revival gives the 1978 play a smart, stripped down treatment. The cast, imported from last spring’s London production, includes Tom Hiddleston (Loki in the Marvel films and forthcoming Disney+ series), and Charlie Cox (the title role in Netflix’s Daredevil). Along with British actress Zawe Ashton (Velvet Buzzsaw), Hiddleston and Cox come with long theater resumes; they are both terrific sprung from their comic book trappings.
Director Jamie Lloyd, a frequent Pinter interpreter, responds to the spare text with a staging to match: The set is framed in bare, graphite-colored walls, furnished with only an occasional chair and folding table. There are no costume changes, unless you count the retucking of a shirt. (The scenic and costume design is by Soutra Gilmour.) Virtually the only props are the bottles and glasses that keep our three principals in the drink. The lighting (by Jon Clark) is stark, throwing shadows of the three characters up on those empty walls and echoing their doubled lives.
In a script based on an affair Pinter carried on during his first marriage, his only narrative indulgence is to tell the story in reverse: The play opens two years following the end of the affair with a chaste if flirtatious reunion between art gallerist Emma (Ashton) and literary agent Jerry (Cox) on the day after Emma and her husband Robert (Hiddleston), a publisher of some of Jerry’s authors, have decided to separate. Over the course of a tense 90 minutes, Betrayal winds back to the moment nine years earlier when everything we’ve just witnessed now seems inevitable. From the start, we know what the characters do not: How this will end. In exchange for that insight (which hardly qualifies as a spoiler: What love triangle ever turned out happily?) we are treated to pleasurable shocks of irony and melancholy.
A production this minimalist depends on its performances. Hiddleston’s turn has the restraint and winning edge of a poker sharp. Robert often knows more than either his friend or wife suspects, giving him a power and calm unusual in a cuckolded husband; Hiddleston wields that advantage with a chilling smile. However, in the moment when his suspicions about his wife are confirmed, there is real emotion, teary eyes and all. We’ve already learned Robert can be cruel, so this display, coming when it does, is affecting.
Cox, too, is well fit to his part: The also-married Jerry is affable, appealing — exactly the good-natured sort of fellow you would not expect to have set up a daytime-use flat with his oldest friend’s wife. As the woman between them, Ashton begins tightly coiled upon herself, twitchy and punctuating Emma and Jerry’s post-affair catch-up with nervous smiles. Thankfully, as we return to earlier days, Ashton drops some of that mannered approach to show us the woman, both cool and practical, who navigated a divided life until it no longer suited her.
Though the action consists mainly of two-person scenes (two lovers, two spouses, two best friends), Lloyd keeps all three actors on stage. Seen by the audience but not by the speaking characters, the odd-person-out wordlessly reminds us that he or she is never out-of-mind for the others. It’s a simple yet stirring device. In fact, the formula is so effective, it is jarring when Lloyd messes with it: Why bring out a child actor to illustrate the daughter to whom the characters only refer? Some comic business with a (scripted) Italian waiter also unnecessarily ripples the show’s otherwise sleek tone.
The dialogue, particularly between the two men, suggests the thrilling volley of a tennis match. But Robert, as we are frequently reminded, is a squash enthusiast. Whereas in tennis each player stays on his own side of the court, in squash the competitors share a confined, four-walled game space — collisions are inevitable. And, as with great infidelity dramas, that too is part of the spectacle. B+
Take a Look Back at the Olivier-Winning U.K. Stage Career of Betrayal Star Tom Hiddleston
By Joshua Ferri
Tom Hiddleston makes his official Broadway September 5 when the hit Jamie Lloyd revival of Harold Pinter’s marital drama Betrayal opens at the Jacobs Theatre. Tom leads the production as Robert, a man who finds out his wife and best friend have been having a seven-year affair together.
The British actor is best known for his role as Loki in the Marvel’s Thor and The Avengers (and all their subsequent sequels) and his Golden Globe-winning star turn on TV’s The Night Manager, as well as the films Kong: Skull Island, War Horse, Midnight in Paris. But what fans might not realize is that Tom Hiddleston is an Olivier Award-winning stage actor with an impressive list of U.K. credits to his name. Scroll on as BroadwayBox takes a look back at these earlier Tom Hiddleston performances.
After completing his studies with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, 25-year-old Tom toured Europe as Alsemero in in Cheek by Jowl and the Barbican’s production of The Changeling.
Tom toured again in 2007 with Cheek by Jowl and the Barbican in their co-production of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline. Tom played Posthumus / Cloten. For his performance, he won the Olivier Award for Best Newcomer in a Play.
Next, Tom appeared alongside Chiwetel Ejiofor and Ewan McGregor in Othello at the Donmar Warehouse. He played Cassio and was nominated for Best Newcomer in a Play for that performance as well.
Later in 2008, he co-starred again at Donmar Warehouse in their production of Chekhov’s Ivanov. He played Eugene Lvov opposite the great Kenneth Branagh. It would be Branagh who cast Tom as Loki when he directed the film Thor.
He took the stage at the Old Vic for one night only in 2010 to appear in Danny Boyle’s The Children’s Monologues. Tom was one of many celebrities who performed monologues adapted from first-hand experiences of children in South Africa. His was about a child who got an orange on her birthday.
Tom performed Tennesee Williams’ The Kingdom of the Earth as part of the Stories Before Bedtime series at the Criterion-Theatre. He played Chicken.
His proper stage return came in 2013 when Tom starred as the title character in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus at the Donmar Warehouse. The production was preserved and broadcast in theatres worldwide.
When Hiddleston and director Kenneth Branagh reunited for a three-week run of Hamlet at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, tickets were so hard to come by they were given out by lottery.
Tom returned to the West End in this current production of Betrayal. The revival first played the Harold Pinter Theatre earlier this year before transferring to Broadway’s Jacobs Theatre, where it will run through December 8, 2019.
Tom Hiddleston on coming to Broadway with an act of Betrayal
By: Jessica Derschowitz
EW is committed to giving our subscribers more entertainment news and access whenever we can, so we’re expanding our Must List Picks online! You can check out past picks or subscribe to the Entertainment Weeklynewsletter to get all of our recommendations sent directly to your inbox. This week we’re excited about Tom Hiddleston‘s turn on Broadway in a revival of Harold Pinter’s classic play Betrayal, which opens Sept. 5. A few days before Hiddleston appeared at San Diego Comic-Con to promote Loki, he sat down with EW to discuss bringing Betrayal to New York, and how sometimes even Earth’s Mightiest Heroes can’t get a ticket to the hottest show in town.
Marvel’s resident god of chaos is about to sow discord on a very different stage. Before he steps back into the role of Loki for the character’s eponymous Disney+ series, Tom Hiddleston is making his Broadway debut in a revival of Harold Pinter’s classic play Betrayal. The oft-revived drama uses reverse chronology to spin the story of a marriage unraveled by a wife’s years-long affair with her husband’s close friend. Hiddleston, 38, plays Robert, the aforementioned husband, while Zawe Ashton plays his wife, Emma. Charlie Cox, who also logged time in the Marvel-verse as the star of Netflix’s Daredevil, is Jerry, the third member of the play’s romantic triangle. This new revival, directed by Jamie Lloyd, is transferring from London, where it had a sold-out West End run that just concluded in June. (It began previews at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on Aug. 14, ahead of an opening night on Sept. 5.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was it about Betrayal that interested you? TOM HIDDLESTON: I read this play when I was a student. There’s certain classes where a teacher would assign each acting student a play and a role, and you had to read the play and — it was almost a class in dramaturgy — you had to write a monologue for the character that wasn’t from the play itself, and then perform it to try and give the rest of the class a clue as to what the play was. And I was given Betrayal. I remember sitting down on a rainy Wednesday afternoon in the library and reading it in one sitting, because it’s quite short to read, thinking, This is amazing, I’d love to do this one day. But I was 20 years old and this is about people in their late 30s, early 40s. So I thought, gosh, this is a long way off — of course, it came around quick. [Laughs]
I find this play fascinating. It’s about the complexity of relationships, the profound commitment to trust, about knowledge, about time. And what’s thrilling about it for [my costars] Charlie Cox and Zawe Ashton and myself is none of us leave the stage. There’s a charge between the three of us that we hope reveals something new about the play, that these three relationships — the marriage, the friendship, and the affair — are actually codependent. And when one breaks down, they all break down.
This play is really just the three of you, which is a very different dynamic than a Marvel movie. Was that something you were looking for? I love doing lots of different things and I’ve been lucky enough over the 17 or 18 years I’ve been working, I have done some wildly different stuff. There is something very concentrated about this piece. There are so many scenes between two people, in between couples, and the third character is present on stage all the time — obviously not in the scene, not listening, but they’re representing that they’re in the mind of those people because there’s somebody in the background being talked about, being excluded, being heard.
You only just closed the London production in June. Is this a chance to open the seams again and dive back into the play, or not since it was still so recent? The great thing about this play is it’s never the same twice, because the audience changes the chemistry. There is humor in the play — it wouldn’t be Harold Pinter without some dark humor — and some audiences come and they’re very keen to laugh, and other audiences are keen to listen and be quiet. That always changes things. I think over the run it started to settle in us in a deeper way, but I’m looking forward to diving back in. The bones of the production will be the same, but we’ll find new things. And that’s the great joy of doing theater, is that you keep chasing down new shades of the truth, especially with a great piece of writing. It’ll only be over when it’s over.
Tell me about working with your costars, Charlie and Zawe. It’s been such a happy company. They’re both such fine actors and individuals, and Zawe and I were both part of this [Pinter celebration in London last October] and we read scene 5 from Betrayal. I’ve known her for quite a long time but never worked with her. Charlie I’ve known for a long time as well, relatively. We bounced around in Los Angeles at the same time when were young actors trying to get work, auditioning for movies that neither of us would get, and ending up going for a burger afterwards and going, oh well, next one! So it’s been a real pleasure, and we connected as a trio and can’t wait to keep going.
You and Charlie were also ships passing in the Marvel universe, which is interesting. Yes, it’s been curious swapping stories about that. But yeah, I never worked with him in that space. But it has just been a joy [doing Betrayal], and it’s exciting that we get to do it again.
Why do you think this 1978 play endured the way it has? It’s strange how it continues to feel modern, because the play’s also about loneliness and trying to connect. A friend of mine saw the production in London and said, in many ways it’s about a woman asking to be loved, and she’s not getting the love that she needs from either man. Or, it’s about one or both men, and their vulnerability. These are enduring themes — isolation, the complexity of intimate relationships, trusting the person you’re with, the difficulty of being vulnerable, and what strength it takes to be vulnerable and what strength it takes to accept someone else’s vulnerability. I don’t think these are human characteristics that are going out of fashion any time soon.
Do you remember the first Broadway show you saw? I think it might’ve been Follies. And then I’ve been a few times since — I saw Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett do The Mountaintop, James Corden in One Man, Two Guvnors. I remember coming to shoot the last three days of Avengers in New York and The Book of Mormon had just opened, but we were all trying to get a ticket and we couldn’t get one. Not even the Avengers could get in — that’s how big a hit it was.
You’re also doing the Loki series for Disney+. When do things begin on that front? Loki will start at the top of next year. He’s such a classical character. [Thor and Loki], they’re from Norse myths — they have a kind of gravitas to them. Robert in Betrayal is much more earthbound. They’re both very complex, but Robert is a publisher and a husband and a father. Loki is the god of mischief. [Laughs] Two quite different figures.