Review – Betrayal at the Donmar

Tuesday 19 June 2007

Betryal maskThe Whingers frequently feel betrayed.

Not by each other particularly – although since one isolated incident in 1987 Phil regularly shakes out the rancid detritus of Andrew’s man-bag to cross-check the prices on the ticket stubs against the money he has just handed him.

No, the Whingers more often feel betrayed by the critics.

Just for the record, the Whingers are consumers, not critics. Critics are the pundits who are paid (and permitted) to write down their thoughts and circulate them to a gullible public.

Those who know the Whingers will realise that the word optimism is rarely revived in their ever-decreasing circles. But when the critics apply epithets such as ‘masterpiece’, ‘excellent’ and ‘his most accessible play’ to a work by Harold Pinter even the Whingers’ jaded consciousnesses can be fooled.

thbetray.jpgSo it was that they almost had a skip in their steps as they trotted to the Donmar Warehouse to see its current production of Pinter’s Betrayal.

This play is famous for being inspired by his affair with “the thinking man’s crumpet” Joan Bakewell, (though with all due respect shouldn’t Bakewell be “the thinking man’s Tart”).

And unusually for Pinter actually tells a coherent story although – this being Pinter – he insists on telling it mostly in reverse order.

Jerry (Toby Stephens) is having an affair with Emma (Dervla Kirwan) who is married to Robert (Samuel West) who also happens to be Jerry’s best friend. And that’s about it, which is fine. The acting is good, the production is good, even the simple design with a few white curtains swishing about is effective.

Andrew was even forced to confess “It’s probably about as well done as it can be” albeit through clenched teeth.

And the reason for this? Frankly my dears the Whingers just didn’t give a damn. It’s all rather dreary. And it’s so relentlessly middle-class that it almost descends ascends into parody.

Most of them work in publishing of course and they bang on endlessly about Torcello and Yeats with their eyebrows forming those thoughtful triangular shapes (perhaps symbolic of the relationship?) that say “aren’t we clever, literate people”.

Toby Stephens sports the floppy haired look and mannerisms of Hugh Grant. Sam West wears a series of cravats that brought the only smile to Phil’s face during the evening. Andrew was rather taken by them, and rather worryingly is thinking of adopting it as ‘a look’.

On the plus side they drink massive amounts of wine. The Whingers could only look on admiringly and enviously. And adding more material for Phil’s forthcoming dissertation onbaguette-11.jpg stage food – although he may be pipped to the post by Mark Lawson on Front Row, Radio 4 Tues 19th June – Hmmmh, wonder where he got that idea?

There’s also that symbol of middle class eating (in the seventies, anyway) – the baguette – placed front stage, thrusting out of a basket at 45 degrees, presumably as some sort of phallic symbol of Jerry’s lust. (Got that one Mr Lawson?)

Now we all know Pinter is famous for his many pauses (menipausal?). But the Whingers were left scratching their heads at some of them. When Emma is called from an upstairs room she replies “I’ll be (pause) down”. When Jerry yacks on about his stroll in the park he says,”I just (pause) looked at the Serpentine” or perhaps this was just evidence of the actors’ collective ennui.

But what do the Whingers know? National treasure and illuminati, Stephen Fry sat conspicuously on the end of a row often catching the spill of stage light seemingly chortling with delight.

When it all came to (pause) a finish, a nearby usher (presumably aware the Whingers were in the house) thoughtfully announced: “If you’re looking for the fastest way out of the auditorium (pause) it’s the door over there”. Andrew sprang to his feet from his stupor in a flash.

Yes it’s all over in less than 90 minutes and being June you can enjoy a glass of wine after the show, pull the play to pieces and still go home in daylight. The Whingers mused that this is what it must be like going to the theatre in Iceland.

In future, when it comes to triangles Andrew intends to eschew those of the Pinteresque variety and stay at home with his reliable and now well worn tapes of his favourite soap opera set on a cross-channel ferry and the only pauses will be those caused by sitting on the remote.

Meanwhile – how shall we repay those who have betrayed us? Revenge is a dish best served cold.


One Response to “Review – Betrayal at the Donmar”

  1. Roy Watson Says:

    Among my friends, “Sam West” has for some time been used as a euphemism for the male organ of generation, and “Toby Stephens” for the corresponding female boulevard. I relished the chance to see them both on the same stage, but it wasn’t nearly as penetrating as I’d hoped.

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