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‘Betrayal’ Panel Discussion

English literature A level students were treated to a rare and insightful panel discussion on Tuesday afternoon by two leading actors from the cast of Pinter’s ‘Betrayal’, performed at the Hampton Hill theatre last September 2016. Our headmaster (Robert) invited fellow actor Steve Webb (Jerry) to Hampton Court House with their director John Buckingham. Living and breathing Pinter’s infamous lines is essential to an understanding of this menacing drama and our discussions centred on how this production was translated to the stage, its myriad themes and how Pinter’s own affairs influenced the play. Our headmaster explained his own portrayal of Robert’s innate human reaction to the discovery of his wife having an affair, which contrasted with the cold, calculating way Robert is portrayed by Ben Kingsley in the 1983 film directed by David Jones. The panel reminded us that although the play has a timeless quality (there are few contextual references), it is set at a time when misogyny was prevalent amongst the upper-middle classes. Interestingly, John did not view the play as ‘misogynistic’ in nature and cited Emma’s measure of independence through working in a gallery; an unusual occupation for women at the time. The panel felt that the dislocation and fragile nature of memory was illustrated in the reverse chronological structure of the play but also influenced by Pinter’s close affiliation with Proustian material at the time (he was working on developing a Proustian screenplay called ‘Remembrance of Things Past’). Their production was also influenced by Yeats’ nostalgic poems (which Robert reads in Torcello), in particular ‘An Image from a Past Life’. Both our headmaster and Steve gave illuminating accounts of the dynamic between Robert and Jerry and the close friendship between the two which underpins the play and alienates Emma (who is married to Robert and having an affair with Jerry). We enjoyed hearing the actors recite lines they remembered as particularly acerbic or poignant (which in itself is a comment on the recollection process) and discussed how masterful Pinter is at communicating with the audience through silence. John highlighted the importance of presenting the recurring leitmotiv in the play (Jerry ‘throwing up’ Emma’s daughter) which they used as a cinematic backdrop, with images of the seasons to delineate time. Indeed the timing of this discussion was apt; the students will now embark on their coursework task, enriched by a cerebral and practical discussion of how one theatre company tackled this play in performance.