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Now Opening: ‘Betrayal’ Returns to Broadway Starring Tom Hiddleston

Category Broadway

|by Ron Fassler |

The Pinter play about infidelity moves backwards in time

Although Harold Pinter was awarded nearly every honor over a fifty-year career any playwright could possibly have hoped for – from the Tony to the Nobel – he still remains something of an enigma to many theatergoers. Which would have been fine with him. He never explained the mysteries behind his plots, or for that matter what he really meant by “pause.” What was uncontestable, however, was his influence on world theater. Much like his American contemporary Edward Albee, who made his playwriting debut within a year of Pinter (1957 and 1958 respectively), each constructed their plays and dialogue with originality and with little regard for convention. Though there were periods when they were both decidedly out of favor with audiences and critics, they went to their graves back on top where they belonged. When Pinter died in 2008, the tributes poured in. Perhaps the British actor Michael Gambon summed it up best when he said, “It was refreshing to be in his plays. There was two miles of subtext under your feet and his dialogue was brilliant.”

Zawe Ashton, Charlie Cox and Tom Hiddleston star in ‘Betrayal’ on Broadway (Photo: Marc Brenner)

Zawe Ashton, Charlie Cox and Tom Hiddleston star in ‘Betrayal’ on Broadway (Photo: Marc Brenner)

Perhaps Pinter’s best known (and most frequently performed) play is Betrayal, currently playing in a brand-new Broadway revival at the Bernard Jacobs Theatre on West 45th Street, starring Tom Hiddleston as Robert, who played the role in London six months ago. Directed by Jamie Lloyd and produced at his eponymous theater company, it was a smash hit that in all likelihood should find similar acclaim on Broadway. Hiddleston, known to film audiences for his role as Loki in the Marvel franchises, also scored a personal triumph in the 2016 Hulu series The Night Manager, for which he won a Golden Globe Award as Best Actor in a Film or Mini-Series. A graduate of Cambridge, he later studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and won a 2008 Olivier Award for Best Newcomer in a Play for his role in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline. In September 2017, he was also widely acclaimed for his Hamlet, directed by Kenneth Branagh. Performed for a three-week run in a 260-seat theater, tickets were available only through public ballot, which resulted in them selling on the black market at ridiculous prices.

Co-starring alongside Hiddleston are Charlie Cox as Jerry and Zawe Ashton as Emma who shared the stage with him in the London production. Like Hiddleston, Cox is a part of the Marvel universe, having starred in the title role of the Netflix series Daredevil. He was also seen in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, playing Owen Sleater, an Irish enforcer with ties to the IRA, which brought him a Screen Actors Guild Award as part of the ensemble of the show. Rounding out the Betrayal cast is Zawe Ashton, who most recently appeared in the 2019 Netflix original film Velvet Buzzsaw opposite Jake Gyllenhaal, as well as being a regular on the Netflix series Wanderlust starring Toni Collette.

Betrayal’s first production was in London in 1978. It starred Daniel Massey as Robert, Penelope Wilton as Emma and Michael Gambon as Jerry, Robert’s best friend who has a seven-year affair with Emma. It then came to Broadway in 1980 in a production I saw that starred Roy Scheider, Blythe Danner and Raul Julia as Robert, Emma and Jerry, respectively. I was wowed by the play’s clever conceit in that it unfolds backwards, beginning with the aftermath of the affair, and its final scene climaxing with the moment when the match to the flame is kindled.

It has been revived on Broadway twice, first in 2003 with Juliette Binoche, Liev Schreiber and John Slattery, and again in 2013 with Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz and Rafe Spall. The 1983 film version, for which Pinter received an Academy Award nomination for his screenplay adaptation, featured Ben Kingsley, Patricia Hodge and Jeremy Irons. Good luck though trying to find even an ancient VHS copy of it. For some rights reasons that are unknown to me, it is currently unavailable in any format. Sad, considering it’s an excellent film.

When Pinter received his Nobel Prize, Horace Enghahl, the Academy’s chairman, said “Pinter restored theater to its basic elements: an enclosed space and unpredictable dialogue, where people are at the mercy of each other and pretense crumbles.” This is the perfect description of Betrayal, as well as what made Pinter such a profound writer for the theater. If you have never seen one of his plays, you owe it to yourself to discover the unique worlds he creates with tension through language. When speaking outside the words of his characters, Pinter was one of the most quoted of playwrights, with perhaps my favorite one of his being this:

“Apart from the unknown, what else is there?”

Betrayal is playing at the Bernard Jacobs Theatre, 242 W 45th St., in a strictly limited engagement, now through Dec. 7, 2019.

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