WITH most theatres geared up for Christmas entertainment and the quarter finals of the Football World Cup on television, it takes a very brave (or foolhardy) company to present a Harold Pinter play at this time in 2022. If, however, like director Graham Smith, you believe you are displaying the work of a theatrical genius, the timing of the production is irrelevant.
Playgoers in the Sherborne area certainly agreed with Mr Smith’s assessment, virtually full houses greeting every performance in the run, including the final Saturday evening, when the show clashed with England’s World Cup Quarter final match against France. Apart from one comment during the interval that the score at that time was 1-1, there was no mention of the match throughout the evening.
As far as the company and audience were concerned, Pinter was in the lead right from the start until the final whistle.
The minimalist set, one wooden table, two chairs and a sofa, which were silently moved in position, with varying props for the nine scenes, by the stage crew at the similar thoughtful pace adopted by the actors, helped to establish an ideal atmosphere for the story of Betrayal to develop. With its autobiographical undertones of his own long-lasting affair with TV journalist and presenter Joan Bakewell, Pinter uses the unusual ploy (which works admirably) of telling the story in reverse.
We first meet Emma and Jerry as they come across one another some time after their affair has ended, and then go back in time to when the first signs of cracks in the affair were beginning to show, back to happier, more exciting times and finally to the moment when their betrayal of Emma’s husband Robert began.
The expression “there is a certain style you must have in order to play one or more author’s work”, is vasty overused, but in Pinter’s case there is no doubt that you must have the ability and confidence to hold his many famous pauses in dialogue, if you are to bring out all the nuances, hidden threats and comedy in the script.
Sarah Nias (Emma), Chris Williamson (Jerry) and Alex Scrivenor (Robert), working together expertly as a team, for the most part bounced dialogue off one another with the skill of three members of a long established team of farceurs, displaying the same belief in the quality of the play as their fully committed director.
Taking advantage of an accent acquired (we presume) in his home town of Palermo, David Pileri ensured in his one scene that his character was a genuine, not a “stage”, Italian waiter.
Walking out through the audience at this most likeable studio theatre, it was obvious that Pinter was still ahead of football.