Reviews: Betrayal & The Man Who Lived Twice

Affairs of the heart laid bare

 

Betrayal

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow,

until March 24

 

The Man Who Lived Twice

Seen at The Arches, Glasgow,

touring until April 5

 

Reviews by Mark Brown

 
New Citizens Theatre director Dominic Hill opens his Glasgow account with an undoubted modern classic, Harold Pinter’s great 1978 play Betrayal. The drama (which was, famously, inspired by Pinter’s seven-year affair with journalist Joan Bakewell in the 1960s) is, far from being a self-romanticising work of autobiography, a profound and reverberant play.

Beautifully structured, it moves backwards chronologically, from the demise of the marriage of Emma (a gallery manager, played by Neve McIntosh) to Robert (a publisher, played by Cal Macaninch), through the stages of Emma’s affair with Jerry (a literary agent and Robert’s closest friend, played by Hywel Simons). The play is constructed like a great piece of modernist chamber music (something by Bartok, perhaps), its moments of agonising discordance purposely piercing the otherwise glass-smooth surface of the writing.

Hill’s production captures this brilliant paradox with deftness and confidence – not least in the relationship between Jerry and Robert, which carries as much weight, emotionally and psychologically, as that between Emma (McIntosh is on scintillating, clever and elegant form) and either man.

The relations between the male friends are given a subtly subversive dimension here, with Simons’s Jerry (the nominal Pinter role) more about crumpled, cerebral decency than sexual and intellectual magnetism. By contrast, Macaninch’s Robert (who has had a string of affairs of his own) displays the superior air of a wounded but undefeated lion. The scene in a Venetian hotel room, in which Robert, almost cruelly, investigates his suspicions of his wife’s infidelity, has the choreography and tension of the final moves of a great chess match, and is typical of this powerfully sustained production as a whole.

Gorgeously designed and lit (by Colin Richmond and Chris Davey respectively), with opaque screens floating across the stage and a metaphoric revolve turning the characters to and from each other, it is a triumphant beginning to Hill’s tenure at the Citz.

Garry Robson’s drawing room cabaret The Man Who Lived Twice, the latest offering from touring company Birds of Paradise, may not have quite the power of the Citizens’ production, but it is a fascinating proposition nonetheless. A dream-like piece about the relationship between the great American dramatist Edward Sheldon and English actor John Gielgud, it is possibly the finest production in the Glasgow-based company’s 21-year history.

Birds of Paradise is an integrated company of disabled and non-disabled actors, and the focus here is, in large part, upon the disability of a character: Sheldon was blinded, painfully paralysed and effectively bed-ridden by rheumatoid arthritis. As Gielgud is granted a Papal-style audience with the American – via his redoubtable friend Mrs Patrick Campbell – it is as if the dangerous charm of F Scott Fitzgerald has been mixed with the American gothic of Edgar Allan Poe; a sense enhanced by both Kenny Miller’s lovely set (all black bed sheets and pink flower petals) and musical director Ross Brown’s subtly sardonic performance as Sheldon’s piano-playing carer, Mr Ernst.

Karina Jones is hilariously and appropriately over-the-top as Mrs Pat (although she is lumbered with a variably successful role in Archie, the truth-telling macaw). Laurie Brown is often affecting, if sometimes a little stretched (not least when he is required to sing), as he portrays Gielgud’s crisis in falling for the suffering playwright.

However, it is Paul Cunningham’s Sheldon – intense, charming and frightening in his fury – who generates the most emotional energy in Alison Peebles’s beautifully honed production.

These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on March 11, 2012

© Mark Brown

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