Review of Betrayal at KLpac

INFIDELITY seems so commonplace in the 21st century, and even out of place in a polygamous society.

But at what price to all concerned may well be the question in Harold Pinter’s play Betayal, currently running at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre.

The dalliance of some 9 years is given a heated staging with Omar Din, Razif Hashim and Stephanie Van Driesen, with what is left unsaid as important as what is spoken.

It’s a tense reading that magnifies the emotions of such temporal excitement, like the affair, and the heartbreak of betrayal, not just between lovers but old friends and spouses.

Delivered in short scenes, announced on a screen with relevant titles and pictures, the play kicks off in the spring of 1977 and winds its way backwards to the winter of 1968.

Jerry (Razif), a literary agent, starts an affair with Emma (Stephanie) who is married to Robert (Omar), who is also Jerry’s pal and best man at his wedding.

Jerry’s and Emma’s afternoon delights are conducted at a rented flat, that has no phone. I seemed to have missed the part on how do they then communicate a meetup, but this is a minor detail. What’s obviously exciting is that there are no interruptions and the pair thinks Robert doesn’t know about the affair.

Jerry is married with two children while Robert and Emma also have two kids, although who exactly is the father of the youngest is questionable. Oh wow!

Along comes in a scene set in Venice when Robert goes to the post and spots a letter for Emma. He confronts his wife as he knows his friend’s writing. He’s in for it, you think, but his acceptance of the revelation is controlled emotion. I wonder if this is the British stiff upper lip syndrome, for few Indian men I know will let his wife get off that easily!

The three actors did portray well the emotions of the moment, and served up the brilliance of Pinter’s prose with aplomb.

Since it was held in a small stage, KLpac’s Indicine, Stephanie’s facial giveaways to the emotions of the scene of the moment — like getting excited over infidelity, or hiding things from her husband — came across with striking clarity.

Omar’s pointed stares as he confronts his cheating wife, or his cheating friend was tellingly felt.

The audience responded well to the comic relief offered by the waiter (Jad Hidhir ) when Jerry and Robert have lunch at an Italian restaurant. In fact, in this lighter scene, the apprehension portrayed by Razif as Jerry that Robert might have known about his affair was  convincing.  Elsewhere, the two leading men shared what seemed to be an underlying homoerotic relationship, as seen in a scene about the rituals of a squash game or talking about writers and novels.

All that lying between friends and spouses couched in witty dialogue, with nuanced pauses, that highlighted those moments of compassion, pain, tension, and controlled anger — it would have been an engrossing watch, if not for the switching of sets for each scene that soon enough served to interrupt the flow of the telling.

The scene-shifts – from pub to flat to Venice to house — were not fluid enough and eventually seemed too many in a play merely 130-or-so minutes long.

The costume changes gave the era of the 1970s its shine, as did the music for scene changes. But the play just felt interminable after an hour. It seemed a case where less would be more, even with the ironical addition of that Beatles hit, “All You Need is Love”.

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