Review: Betrayal (Soulpepper)

Picture of Virgilia Griffith, Ryan Hollyman, and Jordan Pettle in BetrayalSoulpepper Theatre presents Harold Pinter’s Betrayal to Toronto audiences

Harold Pinter was a British playwright, screenwriter, director, and actor. In 2005, Pinter won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Betrayal is one of his most celebrated plays with productions around the world. And now Soulpepper, one of Toronto’s longstanding theatre companies, offers us their own production.

The play begins when Emma (Virgilia Griffith) discovers that her husband Robert (Jordan Pettle) has been having an affair. Emma calls her old lover Jerry (Ryan Hollyman), who is also married, and they discuss their own long-ended affair. Emma then tells Jerry that she told Robert, who happens to be Jerry’s oldest friend, about their affair.  When a panicking Jerry goes to talk to Robert, he finds out Emma actually told Robert years ago.

While it sounds complicated, the plot is wonderfully simple. This play is about different kinds of betrayal, but it is also about denial. The characters make small talk, speaking in circles about the banal. Even during times of emotional crisis the characters never deliberately confess their true feelings. This refusal to touch on anything poignant brilliantly creates palpable tension on stage.

There is so much left unsaid that the audience has space to fill in the blanks. And while the play is a little dated in its dry British humour, 70’s attitudes, and décor, the emotions are timeless and familiar. Pinter’s classic plays out the flaming passions of new love, the pained expressions of that love when it sours, and the betrayal of them both.

The lighting and sound design (lighting design Rebecca Picherack, sound designer/ composer Richard Feren) is inspired. The play takes place in multiple settings without any change in the objects on stage. Instead, the lighting and sound transform the stage into a new scene.

The whole stage flushes with light when Emma and Jerry passionately play house in their new apartment. The lights dim and the background chatter of people and clinking of glasses dull the atmosphere when Emma and Jerry meet at a bar years later to not discuss what really happened between them.

The scenes move mostly backwards through time, with a few exceptions. Yet it’s always easy to immediately pick up the context and relevancy of the scene. Director Andrea Donaldson does a fantastic job of orchestrating characters gracefully through time and space.

Griffith, Hollyman, and Pettle have impeccable stage presence and work together with impressive chemistry. Through body language and facial expressions they all convey a large range of emotions while refraining from obvious emotional vulnerability. Like the irony of Emma asking her married lover Jerry if he’s been unfaithful to her.

Jerry is married to Judith, a character often mentioned but never portrayed. And both married couples have children, who are painted into the plot without ever appearing. Betrayal reminds the audience of all the loose strands and all the people effected, even when they aren’t physically present.

At the same time, none of the characters are able to admit this to each other or themselves. Emma suggests to Jerry that his wife must know about their affair. But Jerry insists Judith is ignorant and not interested. Later, we see Jerry blindly ignoring the signs that Robert is actually very aware of the affair between Jerry and his wife.

What is delicious about Betrayal is that each audience member takes home a different experience. What’s unsaid leaves so much room for interpretation and profound projection. My guest thought the play was exceedingly clever and very emotionally convincing. I found the production deeply sensitive and darkly unsettling.


    • Betrayal is playing until September 22, 2019 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Lane) in the Michael Young Theatre.
    • Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8 pm, with additional matinees Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 2 pm
    • Ticket prices range from $38 – $83 for regular tickets, and $38 for student tickets
    • Tickets are available online, by phone at 416-866-8666, or in person at the box office

Photo of Virgilia Griffith, Ryan Hollyman, and Jordan Pettle by Dahlia Katz.