Review: Betrayal, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

Mark Brown reviews Betrayal at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow.

The inaugural production of a new Citizens Theatre director is a significant occasion. The playhouse is one of the UK’s most famous repertory theatres, with a reputation which is – thanks to the remarkable directorship of Giles Havergal (and his co-conspirators Robert David MacDonald and Philip Prowse) between 1969 and 2003 – truly international.

This classy and resonant production of Betrayal – Pinter’s great play about the lies and truths in an illicit love affair – suggests that Dominic Hill (who has swapped the artistic directorship of the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh for the Citizens) is the man to restore the reputation of this great Glasgow institution.

The beauty of the production is that it understands, from the very outset, the tremendous scale of the play, in which literary agent Jerry betrays his closest friend, publisher Robert, by having a seven-year affair with his wife, art-gallery manager Emma. It may have only three characters (plus Barrie Hunter’s humorous Italian waiter), but my goodness does it have the power to fill a large auditorium.

The raw energy, captivating, sparse poetry and clever comedy of this semi-autobiographical piece are undeniable. I have never seen them given such a consistent and atmospheric expression as Hill gives them here.

The stage is stripped back to its black-painted walls. Metal and Perspex panels glide across the stage as scenes change. Characters enter and depart on a stage revolve which is as symbolic as it is functional. Subtly emotive chamber music (piano and strings) accompanies Pinter’s portrayal of the stages of an agonised love triangle. It is, in both aesthetic and technical terms, truly exquisite.

Exquisite would be the correct adjective to describe Hill’s casting, too. Neve McIntosh gives an extraordinary, brilliantly nuanced performance as Emma, a seamless amalgam of effortless beauty, unforced style, sharp intelligence, gentle vulnerability and a chink of steel. One doesn’t doubt for a moment that she could, without trying or wishing to, capture Jerry utterly.

Hywel Simons’s Jerry is similarly excellent: erudite and compassionate, but with an under-the-radar ruthlessness in cuckolding the alpha male Robert (Cal Macaninch, stunningly cerebral and detached, masking his pain in drink and a sinister masculinity). It is, from the first moment to the last, a beautiful, taut and enthralling Pinter, and as close to a perfect start to Hill’s leadership as one could wish for.

Until March 24. Tickets: 0141 429 0022

This review was originally published in the Daily Telegraph on March 8, 2012:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/theatre-reviews/9131797/Betrayal-Citizens-Theatre-Glasgow-review.html

© Mark Brown

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