pinter plays: looking backwards


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No Man's Land


Pinter No Mans Land

The image is from the Sydney Theatre Company and Queensland Theatre Company production in 2011.




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just like old times I thought of you the other day it doesn't matter /  it's all gone seven years of afternoons we're here now / not really in the old days we used our imagination it's just... an empty home what do you consider the subject to be?/ betrayal/ no, it isn't beautiful / empty / a slight mist

Betrayal, a love triangle played backwards, with nine scenes starting in 1977 then moving to 1975, 1974, 1973, 1971 and concluding in 1968 at the of the affair.  Emma and Jerry have an affair, Jenny's husband Robert is Jerry's best friend.  Billington notes the play was the first Pinter wrote after the break-up of his first marriage, and Pinter's extra-marital seven year affair with Joan Bakewell.

27 Nov "Harold has begun writing a new play... The play began with the image of Harold finding out from Michael Bakewell that he, Michael, had long known of Harold's affair with Joan- from Joan herself.
 4 Dec The play is very funny, but there is a lot of pain there.  I wonder what the real title will be?
27 Dec Harold wrote for twelve hours the play he now calls Betrayal.  He's very excited.
31 Dec Harold finished the first draft of Torcello as it's now become.
 1-6 Jan Harold has completely redrafted Betrayal- the name is back again.
 8 Jan Harold tinkers with White Wedding (as Betrayal has become).
 1 Feb Harold told Joan about Betrayal in The Ladbroke Arms.  She is in 'a state of shock'... Harold is torn between two desperate emotions, sympathy and ruthlessness."

From Must You Go? by Antonia Fraser.

Pinter Betrayal - click for source

The poster of the Village Players production directed by Thrisa Hodits at the Black Box Theater, Chicago (click on the image for the source).

Billington writes that critics were hostile when the play opened, Billington's own premiere review called it "high-class soap-opera" but recently (The Guardian 17 Jun 2011) Billington says "Having rubbished Harold Pinter's Betrayal on its appearance in 1978, I seem to have spent much of my life discovering its complexities."  Pinter did not write another full length play for more than a decade after Betrayal.

Charles Spenser in The Telegraph (10 Oct 2003) says "Like all great works of art, Betrayal seems to contain myriad meanings. Watching this production... I was most struck by the fact that the relationship between Robert and Jerry was in its way stronger and more passionate than what either of them felt for Emma.

This time, it was the myriad different forms of betrayal Pinter explores. What's worse, having an affair with your best friend's wife, or your best friend not telling you that he knows all about it? Is it a betrayal to publish books you no longer believe in, or for a mistress not to tell her lover that her husband knows the truth?"

I once edited a video tape of the play so that it played in chronological order, to see if it remained a good play.  It does.

The premiere was in the National Theatre in London on 15 Nov 1978 with Penelope Wilton, Michael Gambon and Daniel Massey and director Peter Hall (from Plays 4).  As well as the three main players, there is a small role as a waiter.  It runs for 90 minutes without interval, though Pinter does give the option of an interval after scene four.  The film version from 1983 starred Patricia Hodge, Jeremy Irons and Ben Kingsley with director David Hugh Jones.

Harold Pinter Betrayal


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