Prior to our recent sell-out run at the Lincoln Drill Hall we did not particularly publicise that the cast were swapping roles in different performances. This was because it did not arise out of directorial conceit but as a natural consequence of two real life couples working on a play about a love triangle.
During rehearsals there was – naturally enough – a competitive stage during which actors tried to emulate aspects of the opposite player’s performance of each role. Working in this crucible the bones of the play emerged clearly, the interplay of desires and strategies each employ to get what they need without sacrificing too much – or not. We know what the characters do because it is in Pinter’s script, but the way they do it and the minutiae of why they do it ultimately depends on the soul of the character which is the being of the actor.
For a simple example, take height. I mention this having been passed over in my youth for the role of leading man by a director for being ‘too tall’ for the part. There is nothing in Betrayal demanding that Jerry be taller or shorter than Robert: Robert tells Jerry that he’s hit Emma once or twice, but anyone with much experience of domestic violence (or men’s talk, for that matter) will know that in itself implies next to nothing about the physiques of the parties involved. However, the way you kiss or shake hands with someone taller/shorter bigger/smaller than yourself forms part of a pattern of potentialities, including who and how we love and hurt other people. Sat in the audience do you always have a clear view or are you used to peering round other people’s heads? How does this impact the moments of empathy and alienation you experience in the pattern of relations you witness?
It is perhaps no surprise that audiences in the post-show discussions expressed difficulty imagining the roles played differently – the quantity and quality of the actors work over the past year of preparation for performance has created compellingly believable interactions between them onstage – but also a strong desire to see it done. Luckily, for those who want to see it again only differently, the carousel is coming round again in 2014:
· 27 February – Bonington Theatre, Arnold, Nottingham
· 7 March – Trinity Arts Centre, Gainsborough
· 14 March – Leeds University Studio Theatre, Leeds
· 15 March – Riverhead Theatre, Louth
· 27 March – Kings Lynn Arts Centre
· 28 March – Seven Arts Centre, Chapel Allerton, Leeds