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USD $1 ₱ 57.10 0.1080 April 19, 2024
April 17, 2024
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REVIEW: Repertory Philippines’ ‘Betrayal’ puts you in a vise of repressed emotions

‘Betrayal’ is such a cerebral endeavor. It’s hard-hitting and doesn’t pull back any punches.

I have heard a lot about the playwright Harold Pinter but never actually got to read or see any of his plays produced until now. Repertory Philippines through New York and London-based director Victor Lirio has brought Pinter’s classic 1978 play ‘Betrayal’ to the Carlos P Romulo Theater at the RCBC. A three-hander, the roughly 90-minute production is a story of an affair unraveling backwards through time. It has all the qualities that have come to define what a Pinter play is: characters in enclosed spaces, the barest minimum of plot, and dialogue that is meant to highlight the changing power dynamics between the characters as they struggle to pick each other apart as they try to derive a semblance of truth.

What makes this production more appealing is that Lirio has decided to bring in three British Filipino actors – Vanessa White, James Bradwell, and James Cooney (with Jeff Flores and Regina De Vera as understudies) – and to approach the production through a British-Filipino lens. During the talkback after the opening night, Lirio says that not a single line of dialogue was touched or changed. The essence of the play that Pinter originally wrote in 1978 is intact, the only difference is that it centers now on the character of Emma and that the emotional core of the performances are tied to the actor’s understanding of the British-Filipino experience.

‘Betrayal’ is the story of an affair that happens between Emma (White) and Jerry (Cooney), the best friend of Emma’s husband Robert (Bradwell). The affair lasted seven years and as the play opens, Emma reveals to Jerry that her marriage to Robert is ending, despite the fact that affair had ended two years prior. She tells him Robert has just discovered “last night” about Emma and Jerry’s affair while revealing his own infidelity and this leads Jerry to meet with Robert. In their scene together, Jerry discovers that Robert has known for four years now and that Emma had told him back then, and now Jerry is left to wonder why Emma would “betray him” like that.

REP Philippines’ Betrayal features a cast of London-based Filipino actors

The play that moves backwards in time, to key moments that reveal the many lies that were told to maintain such a long-standing affair and the layers of deception that were at work as who knew what at what point in time starts to show the utter complexities of human relationships and dynamics.

There is a straightforwardness to Pinter’s dialogue. Surprisingly, Lirio makes a decision to remove all displays of histrionics and fiery tempers from this production. At its highest emotional points, Jerry (James Cooney) raises his voice twice while Bradwell’s Robert has a drunken moment where he almost reveals his inner thoughts and feelings. These were the most gregarious displays of emotions that the show is able to muster for the audience. It keeps things restrained, all emotions held back and kept in, and fills the show with an aura and atmosphere of repression and imprisonment.

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REP Philippines’ Betrayal leads with critically acclaimed actor and theater director Victor Lirio

Lirio and the cast discussed that the British-Filipino perspective that came into the approach of this play and its characters meant that they had to draw from the attitudes of dignity and pride. Being of Asian descent meant the pressures to fit in so strongly and since the threat of racism hangs over these characters’ heads, it was important for them to be better, to be dignified at all times. It’s why there is much in the direction that everything is measured out in such small doses. And nothing is ever revealed. 

It is an interesting perspective that has a double-edged effect for the audience. On one hand, there were many that enjoyed the more dignified presentation of people who are coming to terms with an affair. It is so far removed from the Filipino experience of loud, passionate displays of hurt pride and grief and loss. On the other hand, it can also keep the play from reaching any real point of catharsis. It’s a mental game rather than an emotional one, and one can leave the theater feeling very cold.

Bradwell and Cooney manage to thrive in this environment. Both actors manage to humanize their characters underneath Pinter’s measured dialogue and Lirio’s restrained direction. As they try to keep all the rage and anger and confusion inside, what they are able to telegraph from their posture, the shift of pitch and tone of their voice as they deliver the lines, betray the thoughts that are simmering inside them (pun intended). The weight of the lies play out so evidently in Bradwell’s gait and posture. Cooney, on the other hand, gains and loses his character’s sense of confidence and self-depending on the scene. Unfortunately, White seems unable to push Emma’s interiority out for us to chew on. She is so restrained, so repressed that nothing escapes. Her delivery and movements are so mannered, so precise that it looks rehearsed, bordering on the inauthentic.

I am so glad to have finally seen a Pinter play. ‘Betrayal’ is such a cerebral endeavor. It’s hard-hitting and doesn’t pull back any punches. Its non-linear narrative structure demands your full attention. The structure points to an inevitability that can be read as cynical and it can make you question the ways by which we interact with the people around us and, most importantly, the way we see ourselves. Rep’s production is different, maybe refreshing, definitely daring but not without its disadvantages. There’s no catharsis here. No release from the pent-up emotions. It’s a study on repression and it entraps its audience in its vise.

My Rating:

5 stars - Don't Look Up review


BETRAYAL is currently running at the Carlos P. Romulo Theater in RCBC Plaza until March 17. For tickets, please contact REP Philippines at 0966-905-4013.

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