The revival of Harold Pinter’s adultery drama Betrayal comes as close to being critic-proof as is possible, with record-breaking ticket sales before it opened because of its two stars – Daniel Craig (007) and his real-life wife Rachel Weisz, who is making her Broadway debut.
Betrayal tells the story of a married couple and the husband’s best friend; the wife has been having an affair for years with the best friend. Or was having. Pinter’s play tells the events in nine scenes that are in reverse order chronologically. We first see Emma (Weisz) and Jerry (Rafe Spall) in a pub in 1977, two years after their affair has ended. The show ends in 1968, with their first extramarital kiss.
Here are the reviews:
Jonathan Mandell, New York Theater, Director Mike Nichols takes liberties. The alcohol pours freely, designer Ian MacNeil’s sets glide aerodynamically into place, the actors shed British reserve and shout and grab and, instead of staring, kiss…and couple. This is a more external, more explicit, production of what is already Pinter’s most accessible play. For me, what’s lost in subtlety is gained in clarity. Even Ann Roth’s costumes help to explain the characters’ behavior.
Ben Brantley, New York Times: a crude and clunky production… Here comes the part where some killjoy critic (that would be me) pours ice water on steaming anticipation. If you already have tickets to “Betrayal,” don’t read another word of this review. You will indeed be able to see Mr. Craig in the flesh, and that flesh (though covered up by suits and downtime civvies) looks great….(T)his is a sexed-up “Betrayal,” which is not the same as a sexy “Betrayal.” All those contradictory, fleeting, haunting shades of thought that you expect to see playing on the features of Pinter’s characters are nowhere in evidence.
Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: A stunning revival of Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal” opened Sunday at the Barrymore Theatre with alcohol flowing in every one of its nine scenes: Beer, red wine, scotch, vodka, white wine. Repeatedly cheating on your spouse clearly necessitates liquid courage. Director Mike Nichols adds more spirits than even Pinter’s script suggested, a way the master craftsman can connect the scenes and explain the stiff-upper-lip repression on the stage. Liquor is the lubrication that keeps each participant from going on a table-flipping screaming rant or utterly collapsing. Nichols proves once again – as if anyone needed it – that he is brilliant at stripping away everything that is not the meaning of the play.
Joe Dziemianowicz Daily News: (I)s it worth the hubbub and the hype? Actually, yes. The big-screen James Bond and “The Constant Gardener” Oscar winner are smashing and sexy in Mike Nichols’ graceful and stealthily devastating production of Pinter’s autobiographical play.
Elizabeth Vincentelli, New York Post: while the production isn’t a lightning bolt of brilliance, it’s also sturdy and absorbing. But then, the play’s construction forces you to pay attention…this production…looks great but is emotionally distant and a tad too tasteful….It’s all cool and self-controlled, as is Weisz’s performance.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: Mike Nichols and a sizzling cast illuminate Harold Pinter’s masterfully oblique exploration of the byroads of infidelity…The Internet age of sexting scandals and tabloid humiliation, infidelity without public shaming seems almost quaint. So why is Harold Pinter’s 1978 play, Betrayal, still such a bristling drama? Its structural brilliance, for one thing, tracking an adulterous triangle in reverse chronology that stretches back nine years and uncovers as many mysteries as it solves. It also doesn’t hurt to have actors like Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz and Rafe Spall at the absolute top of their game. Likewise, director Mike Nichols, who coaxes his cast to mirror their characters, carefully parsing every word for hidden meaning. In a play largely about what’s unsaid, that makes for thrilling theater.”
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: “Anyone who shelled out the big bucks to see James Bond in the flesh will get more than they bargained for in Mike Nichols’ impeccable revival of “Betrayal.” They’ll be getting a powerful performance from Daniel Craig, a movie star who still has his stage legs. Rachel Weisz, Craig’s wife in the real world, and Rafe Spall, both superb, claim much of the stage time as the adulterous lovers in this enigmatic 1978 play that Harold Pinter based on one of his own extramarital affairs. But it’s the smoldering Craig, as the cuckolded husband, whose brooding presence is overpowering.”
Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times: “What gives Nichols’ handsome production its frisson is the way the men flamboyantly betray their stiff upper lips. London gentlemen in the book business, they epitomize urbane sophistication yet can’t completely hide their caveman hearts. In Craig’s portrayal, Robert’s fury comes into view like a shark fin skimming the surface of the water. The more he controls his wrath, the more dangerous it becomes. When he makes love to his wife after a visit from Jerry, who has no idea that Robert is in on their secret, he descends on her like she were his prey. Spall, whose performance is the most thrilling in the cast, reveals the narcissism of Jerry’s romantic fervor. He seduces not because he’s helplessly in love but because he has an itch to control.”
Matt Windman, AMNewYork: (Director Mike) Nichols’ gloomy production features huge scenic pieces that fly up and down in between scenes, uncomfortably dwarfing this intimate drama.
But the real problem lies in the fact that Nichols never really captures the elusive spark of mystery found in the best Pinter revivals.
Linda Winer, Newsday: The success of Nichols’ warm and approachable production depends on one’s willingness to let go, for 90 entertaining minutes, of the late British playwright’s mastery of the extreme mysteries of humanity. I’m willing, but with reservations…..Weisz, impressively subtle Off-Broadway 12 years ago in Neil LaBute’s “The Shape of Things,” is commanding and grand fun to watch in her Broadway debut as the gallery owner/mother with a life on the side, though this Emma feels more clingy than the one Pinter wrote. Spall is less an obvious seducer than a puppy with teeth as Jerry
Matthew Murray, Talkin’ Broadway: In this new revival, the infelicities of infidelity and illicit love are as agonizing as arguing over the brand of ice cream to include on a shopping list. And the deepest anguish, the most potent loss, and the abandonment of a decade of passionate attention are no more deserving of in-depth psychological examination than, say, the 1960s Broadway comedies directed by Mike Nichols. What, Nichols also directed this revival? Funny, that (in more ways than one).
Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune. For those of us of a certain age, young when this play, and these characters, were hot, the piece reveals itself to be far wiser than first was apparent. It turns out that the famous Pinter menace and subtext, the focus of most of the early reviews of this affair, was a trap. They are not the point at all. Nichols gets the deeper point, which is straightforward, really, and revealing of the transience of everything, especially desire. All three of these actors are on board for this, including the craggy Craig, smart enough to do a play about clinging to the top of the mountain and never admitting your fear of loss, and Weisz, who presents her younger self beautifully and is unafraid to make her naive and pathetic, a easy mark for Spall’s Jerry.
Jeremy Gerard, Bloomberg Business Week, Rachel Weisz is extraordinary as Robert’s wife and Jerry’s lover, her face registering with exquisite exactitude every conflicted emotion Emma feels over the course of the seven-year affair well. Mike Nichols’s devastating production is above all a showcase for this terrific actress.
Tom Teodorczuk, The Independent (UK): (G)one are the trademark Pinter pauses and the tenderness that have defined recent versions… Nichols takes liberties with stage directions, adding a fully-clothed sex scene, and renders the play’s climatic party scene unrecognisable from how it usually plays out. Although this production never catches its breath to reveal the slow-burning ashes of the past that the play usually makes vivid, knockout performances from both Craig and Weisz render it a Betrayal on fire.
Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly: Director Mike Nichols’ handsome, well-staged production is not your typical crowd-pleaser…(T)here’s an off-putting guardedness to the main trio. They regard their emotions from a safe distance, as if with hands safely tucked into pockets. Unable to engage with each other, they may prove a challenge for audiences to embrace as well. B+