“Pub. 1977. Spring. Noon. Emma is sitting at a corner table. Jerry approaches with drinks, a pint of bitter for him, a glass of wine for her. He sits. They smile, toast each other silently, drink. He sits back and looks at her. “
So begins “Betrayal“, one of the most celebrated works by the British playwright, written in 1978 and performed for the first time at the National Theatre in London in November of the same year, directed by Peter Hall.
From that first staging, Pinter’s work has had numerous theatrical productions, including a recent one by Michele Placido with Ambra Angiolini, Francesco Scianna and Francesco Biscione. And in 1983 there was also a film version directed by David Jones and starring Jeremy Irons, Ben Kingsley and Patricia Hodges.
The story is set in London and Venice and begins at the end, in 1977, when the former lovers meet two years after their extramarital affair ended.
The story goes back in time with flashbacks that gradually lead us to the origin of their first meeting in 1968, to their first kiss that marked the start of this ménage à trois between Emma, married to Robert, and Jerry, her husband’s best friend.
So the situation is really much more complex. Pinter recounts not just an ordinary story of conjugal infidelity, but he takes us on a journey in memory from which, little by little, a world of appearances and falsehoods emerges.
The real deception is that of time. “Betrayal” – as the literary critic Dario Calimani wrote – “is the betrayal of memory that cancels and effaces memories. It is the betrayal of the past by the present; betrayal by time, which changes the meanings of things, of feelings, of people, and deludes people’s expectations, their hopes, their illusions. It is the betrayal of reason, which drives the individual to justify the use of a double standard for his own purposes. It is the betrayal of reality, in half-truths, half-lies …”
Said Pinter in an interview in New York: “It’s just a trick of memory. Memory is like that. It all starts from the last moment and rewinds backwards. Only that above it is the head or the brain or the logic or the habit of thinking. Putting it all in reverse, in ‘Betrayals’, I took memory literally, memory without logic, which is a stupid machine, like all machines,” said Pinter in an interview in New York.
Emma moves towards the door. Jerry grasps her arm. She stops still. They stand still, looking at each other.