Review: Betrayal – finely calibrated, stylish and elegant production of Harold Pinter’s award winning play, in Cape Town 2022

Betrayal by Harold Pinter- presented by 2Sugars Productions

Where: Artscape Arena, Cape Town
When: October 21-29, 2022 (6pm and 2pm shows)
Director: Chris Weare
Cast: Marlisa Doubell, Pierre Malherbe and Matt Newman
Set design: Patrick Curtis
Lighting design: Alfred Rietmann
Tickets: Computicket – note Early Bird deal – available until September 30, 2022
Booking link:
Running time: 90 mins
Age advisory: PG 12

#betrayalCPT #2Sugars    

Harold Pinter’s Betrayal in Cape Town 2022, staged by 2Sugars Productions, is a finely calibrated, stylish and elegant production with Marlisa Doubell, Pierre Malherbe and Matt Newman, teasing out delicious layers in a complex triangle of lies, deception and betrayals. The actors move as one body – three self-absorbed individuals- tethered by secrets and duplicity.

The play structure – looping back on itself – reverse chronology -retrospective narrative- is Pinter as dramatic virtuoso: “…Nine scenes in one single space representing seven different locations”, as director Chris Weare mused in a recent interview with TheCapeRobyn []. The play starts in 1977, when the affair between Emma (Marlisa Doubell) and Jerry (Pierre Malherbe) has run its course, and ends at the beginning of the affair in 1968.  Emma is married to Robert (Matt Newman), who is also Jerry’s best friend.  To add to that, her lover has an important business relationship with her husband. Director Chris Weare, riffs off permutations of the couplings and liaisons – friends, lovers, husbands and wives- and threads the narratives with a fantastic playlist of songs which tempers the shifts – time – mood. I loved the music – mostly 70s hits and lesser known numbers. The songs include, God Save The Queen by The Sex Pistols, Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen, Yesterday by The Beatles and Time of the Season by Zombies. It is the soundtrack of their lives – complicated lives and we see how they spin what has occurred.

Most of us are unreliable witnesses to our lives- the way we remember and distort how we were and what happened. Which version do we remember and tell ourselves as we push the recall button? It reminds me of Broken Telephone, the  game, where players whispers a word or phrase in the ear of the person sitting in the adjacent chair and by the time one gets to the end of the line and the last person sounds out what was said, it is invariably very different to what was uttered in the first whisper. The telephone is broken.

The assemblage of the shared history in Betrayal is broken and ruptured by conflicting admissions, reveals and delusions –and gossip – which makes this play fascinating to watch and frequently very funny. They are a bunch of upper middle class Brits of privilege who are it seems, bored with life and inject spice into their routines of marriage as an institution. Although there is sorrow, guilt and regret, they seem to revel in the game of it all.

In writing Betrayal, Pinter, drew on his own long term extra-marital affair (of seven years), and was evidently well versed in the practicalities of charting multiple relationships- including the renting and furnishing of a flat as a love nest. The Nobel Prize winning Pinter was an intellectual bloke. Betrayal is a cerebral play, which invites us to listen carefully to what is being relayed for our voyeuristic viewing. The Artscape Arena is an intimate space and that adds to the voyeurism. I have seen the film adaption of Pinter’s play but it is my first viewing of Betrayal on stage and it is wonderful to hear the text spoken in real time – ie not on film.

The set design (Patrick Curtis) with strategically placed props and striking lighting (Alfred Rietmann) is seductive and alluring – bathing Emma (Marlisa Doubell) and Jerry (Pierre Malherbe) in a prolonged post-coital glow of elation. Emma’s wardrobe is sleek and chic. She has her hubby and her dalliance as a side hustle. This superwoman manages to hold it together for seven years.  It has always fascinated me how people manage to conduct parallel lives and keep track of everything. Doubell brings in a millennial energy to Emma – who transcends being a submissive wifey. She plays both men, as she steadily prowls and circles around, always marking out her territory and although things change, she remains a steady and measured presence, in control.

I love how Chris Weare has kept the play in period – 60s to 70s. If this kind of relationship play was written now, there would likely to be burner phones, video and phone sex and a lot less conversation. They talk poetry and Yeats. Imagine, in these contemporary days, they would be talking about the latest Netflix series.   The creative team have laid out a canvas, to ground the threesome and that allows the space for us to focus on Pinter’s insights into relationships. Ultimately beyond the illicit associations, outside marriage, in Betrayal, we get pulled by Pinter, into riding out the betrayals and to perhaps reflect on what that means.

Bravo to 2Sugars for bringing this Tony Award winning play to us- staged with elegance, wit and intelligence- without the frippery of updating it and turning it into a Tinder for cheaters.  The season ends Saturday – October 29- 2022- (2pm matinee and evening shows at 6pm) – so get there.

Dalliances: Betrayal by Harold Pinter, in Cape Town, October 2022. From left – Pierre Malherbe and Marlisa Doubell. Pic: Jesse Kramer. Supplied.
Bedtime: Betrayal, by Harold Pinter, staged by 2Sugars Productions, in Cape Town, October 2022. Front- Matt Newman and Marlisa Doubell. Pic: Jesse Kramer. Supplied.
Glowing: Beautifully lit by Alfred Rietmann- Harold Pinter’s Betrayal – staged by 2Sugars Productions, in Cape Town, October 2022.
Pic: © TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen.
Designing an affair: Ahh the drinks trolley in- Harold Pinter’s Betrayal – staged by 2Sugars Productions, in Cape Town, October 2022. Set design by Patrick Curtis. Pic: © TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen.

✳ Harold Pinter’s Betrayal in Cape Town, staged by 2Sugars Productions, in Cape Town, October 2022. Featured image by Jesse Kramer-Pierre Malherbe, Matt Newman and Marlisa Doubell. Pic supplied.