Review: MTC’s ‘Betrayal’ Stages A Metaphorical Look to a Dark Secret

Everyone has their deep, dark secrets. What’s yours? And how well do you think your secret is truly hidden from the significant people it can negatively impact? Melbourne Theatre Company examines the complications of our wildest hidden secrets – especially those wrapped around love affairs – in their latest production, BETRAYAL by Harold Pinter.

Harold Pinter, a British contemporary playwright, has been a long-time favourite of mine. BETRAYAL, one of his most famous works, is a play that seems to come back to me over and over again: I’ve read the play hundreds of times, and have seen many actors attempt to give justice to Pinter’s characters during scene-study classes. However, those experiences have no comparison to what director Geordie Brookman, his spectacular cast comprising of Nathan O’Keefe as Jerry, Alison Bell as Emma, Mark Saturno as Robert and John Maurice as the Waiter and the production team of Geoff Cobham (Lighting & Set Design), Alisa Paterson (Associate Set & Costume Design) and Jason Sweeney (Composer) create on MTC’s stage – a seamless portrayal full of metaphorical imagery around the truth behind lying, adulterous relationships.

A brief synopsis of the play: Emma and Jerry are secret lovers for the past seven years. We first find them reconnecting in a pub where it is obvious they haven’t seen each other in quite sometime and the two find themselves in awkward moments, trying to maintain a cordial meeting. Both members are married to other individuals with kids to round out their families. Emma’s husband, Robert, is Jerry’s best mate from university. As the story travels back in time, the events reveal not only how Emma and Jerry’s affair began but also who is really playing who in the game of betrayal. The audience witnesses moments when Robert suspects something is shaping between Emma and Jerry, and the moment when Emma confesses about the affair to her husband without consulting Jerry. It’s a twisted game of passive-aggressive conversation between all affected party members.

I fell instantly in love with the set design: simple yet full of metaphorical references to keeping dirty secrets. A large rotating clothes rack bordered the stage in a semi-circular shape – which, at first impression, begged the question, what would this be used for? The rack was used quite well – between scenes, the rack rotated around the stage blocking the setup of props, cstume changes and stage furniture for the next scene. The direction in which the rack rotated was also cleverly planned – during the first half of the story, the rack rotated towards stage left; but following the climax, the rotation changed to stage right. This scheme was subtle yet very effective to emphasizing a point of no return in the storyline. Practically speaking, and most importantly, the clothes rack served as a storage unit for stage props and costumes assisting the smooth transitions between each scene.

Another highlight about the production was the pre-theatre lobby entertainment. I always enjoy the special care and consideration a company makes to create an entire experience for its audience – one that begins from the moment entertaining into lobby until exiting the lobby post-performance. This production was cleverly preamble by a simple pin board tacked onto the wall to the left of the box office. In front of the wall was a small table with heart-shaped post-it notes and pens; the instructions invited audience members to consider letting go of their deepest secrets by writing it down and tacking it on their wall. Most secrets gave a chuckle – “Santa Claus isn’t real”; “I’m madly in love with so-and-so”; “I still suck my thumb.” I took the opportunity to proudly proclaim my not-so-secret secret.

A well-constructed production of a piece of contemporary theatrical literature by Melbourne Theatre Company – one I would recommend to adult audiences everywhere.

For more information about Melbourne Theatre Company, and tickets to BETRAYAL, which runs until 26th September, please visit www.mtc.com.au.