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Review Roundup: ‘Betrayal’

The revival of Betrayal, Harold Pinter’s piercing portrayal of an adulterous relationship told in reverse chronological order, opened on Oct. 27 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre for a limited run. Real-life couple Daniel Craig (the James Bond films) and Rachel Weisz (Oscar winner for The Constant Gardner) star along with Rafe Spall. Tony-Emmy-Oscar-winner Mike Nichols (Death of a Salesman) directs the play which premiered in London in 1978 and has been seen on Broadway in 1980 and 2000. Did the critics feel the production’s quality matched its all-star reputation and huge box-office advance? Here are excerpts from the major reviews.

Daniel Craig as Robert and Rachel Weisz as Emma in Betrayal (Photo: Brigitte Lacombe)

Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz in ‘Betrayal’ (Photo: Brigitte Lacombe)

Ben Brantley, The New York Times
“It’s possible that Mr. Nichols wanted to revitalize a much-performed classic by introducing some of the sexual cynicism and contempt for men as the lout of the species that characterized his 1971 Carnal Knowledge. But as in that movie, it’s hard to care what happens to these rambunctious, thick-skinned souls. Plays never seem to stay one size, do they? The current revival of The Glass Menagerie makes you realize that it was bigger than you remembered. By comparison, this Betrayal shrivels Pinter’s play to the dimensions of the minor tale of infidelity that London critics called it when the show first opened in 1978. Time may have proved those critics wrong, but this production seems determined to show that they were right, after all.”

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News
“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….Betrayal is provocative and nasty, but being English, it’s all very civilized. In an American version, there’d be screaming and F-bombs all night long. Not here. It’s cerebral, subtle and surprisingly polite. So it takes the right cast to bring it to life. This cast does.”

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post
“The good news is that 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.”

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press
“Superbly acted by Rachel Weisz, Daniel Craig and Rafe Spall, the production sparkles in its simple, powerful beauty. The fact that Craig and Weisz are married in real life adds a dash of spice to performances roiling under the surface. Ian MacNeil’s handsome sets—lit gorgeously by Brian MacDevitt—drift in and out of view in pieces effortlessly, as if reinforcing the notion of hazy memories.”

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter
“In 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.”

Linda Winer, Newsday
Betrayal has always been the least elusive—the least Pinteresque—of all Harold Pinter’s major power-plays. And this hot-ticket revival, directed by Mike Nichols and starring superlunary couple Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz, may be the least Pinteresque Betrayal we will ever see. 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.”

Elysa Garnder, USA Today
“Too often, this Betrayal seems to make the same statement as its marketing campaign. We’re reminded that we are watching great thea-tuh, staged by a prestigious company, rather than being titillated or moved by the longing and anguish and bile that courses through the play’s triangle.”

Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly
“Craig, his famously chiseled features half-hidden under a ’70s shag, seems oddly blasé about his wife’s infidelity, while Weisz strikes a lovely if tentative balance between expressive physicality and inward control. Spall has the best handle on his character’s inchoate and conflicted feelings, particularly in his drunken declaration of love at the end of the play (and the beginning of the affair). Though Betrayal runs less than 90 intermission-less minutes, it can feel longer—thanks in part to Pinter’s notorious pregnant pauses, his elliptical dialogue of misdirection, and the languorous scene changes for Ian MacNeil’s simple but stylish sets.”

Matt Windman, AM New York
“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, such as the 2007 Broadway staging of The Homecoming and The Caretaker with Jonathan Pryce, which played BAM last year. Weisz and Spall offer fine, subtle performances, while Craig occasionally gets to show off a considerably more relaxed air and ends up being the liveliest of the trio.”

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