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The Citizens’ Theatre loves Harold Pinter. Pinter loves the Citz. There's a sum of money involved. and Betrayal is just around the corner. Sue Wilson gets the sordid details from director DAVID FIELDING.
It‘s a sweet stroke of synchronicity. Jtrst as the Citizens' Theatre Company is preparing to stage the only one of Harold Pinter‘s plays it hasn‘t yet tackled (apart from his very latest, Alum/[gluing). the theatre has received a major accolade from the play wright.
Pinter has just been named as the second winner of the £30000 David Cohen British Literature Prize. The Arts Council has provided an additional £10,000. ‘to enable the winner to commission new work which will encourage younger writers and readers‘. and Pinter has requested that this money go to the Citz. ‘whose work he has admired for many years.‘
This unexpected limelight should give a nice boost to ticket sales for Betrayal. Pinter‘s elegantly drawn study ofthe eternal triangle. in which the tale of a woman‘s infidelity with her husband's best friend unfolds in reverse, beginning with the end of the affair and ending with its start. Despite this artful structuring. it is widely seen as a much more conventional drama than one usually associates with Pinter. an assessment director/designer David Fielding both accepts and challenges.
‘()n the surface it does seem much more accessible. less typically Pinteresque. than some of his other plays.‘ he says. ‘but at the same time the subtleties of it are so refined as to make it equally complex in its
\ Harold Pinter: a distant admirer
own way. i think it‘s a fascinating piece. a very truthful piece as well — maybe the most truthful and painful of all his plays. and the most personal as well ‘
‘My information is that it is partly autobiographical, and it’s fascinating trying to figure out how much of
Pinter himself is in this play, and how much in each character.’
The minutely detailed emotional honesty and the intensity of the play derive, Fielding believes, at least partly from its author's first-hand experience. ‘My information is that it is partly autobiographical, and rt‘s fascinating trying to figure out how much of l’inrer hiruself is in this play. and how much in each
character: sometimes you hear his voice in the husband, other times you hear it in the friend, sometimes even in the wife.’
Perhaps the central strength of Betrayal is the deftness with which it harnesses the timelessness of its subject matter, while at the same time reinventing the potentially cliched eternal-triangle scenario and irnbuing it with a powerful raw immediacy. ‘The key device in this respect is the way Pinter uses time.‘ Fielding argues. ‘not only in the backward movement ofthe piece as a whole, but also in the fact that the affair turns out to have lasted over seven years. so it’s a very extreme triangle — everybody‘s dug in very deep. We don’t refer too specifically to the time changes within the play, though Pinter’s instructions in the text order it year by year, with actual dates — l‘m trying to re-identify it as a dream play, a memory play; the way it‘s put together is almost like a sort of Strindbergian ﬂashback.‘
The subtlety of the writing, and the characterisation ofthe three leading players. also enable the key idea embodied in the title to operate on a multiplicity of shifting levels. ‘There's a game we keep playing in rehearsals as we go through the scenes, of trying to decide who‘s betraying whom at any particular point.‘ explains Fielding. ‘That whole issue remains very volatile. You have the best fn'end‘s betrayal of the husband. but also the husband’s betrayal of his wife, with the failures in his relationship with her; you have her betrayal of him. but equally she's betrayed by her lover; at one point she offers to sacrifice things for him, and he continues not to want to leave his wife — which leads you into another betrayal, ofthis unknown fourth party, the woman we never meet.’
Like everyone at the Citz. Fielding is clearly delighted with the honour bestowed by Berrayal's creator, but he denies that it‘s added to the pressures of putting the production together. ‘Obviously it would be very ﬂattering if he came to see the show — I don’t know whether that's likely or not — but irrespective of the award one likes to think that one’s doing as good ajob as one possibly can.‘
Betrayal. Citizens' Theatre. Glasgow: 30 March—22 April.
DRAMA I l
When Sarah Casey leaves a Hell’s Kitchen bar with a man she’s only just met, one might conceivably expect the worst. When she simply vanishes without trace, foul play seems to be confirmed. But in Phyllis Nagy’s play Disappeared, things aren’t so simple. For maybe, just maybe, Sarah wanted it this way. After all, don’t we all sometimes want to just clear off somewhere no one knows us, where we can be whoever we want?
‘I wrote it in response to a series of disappearances in New York,’ says Nagy. ‘Dne in particular was a prostitute who happened to hear an
Disappearing act: Alexandra Cilreath as
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uncanny resemblance to a woman who’d disappeared five years earlier. As a result of the police interest in the prostitute, this woman was found. But she didn’t want to be, and because of this her life was quite literally rulned.’ One of the most striking aspects of the play is the way all the characters are striving in some way to be someone or somewhere else. This is all but epitomised by Elston itupp, the charity-shop loner who re-invents himself every time he slips into a second-hand suit. Given the current fashion for slacker theories, is this lack of a fixed sense of identity symptomatic of our times? ‘I would hesitate to say it’s purely an 80s and 90s condition. I think it’s more a general urban condition that’s always
Nagy’s latest work, The Strip, is playing at The Royal Court, where Nagy is writer-in-residence. Some reviews have expressed bemusement
at The Strip’s multiple-stranded approach, both in place and plot, but Nagy sees this as a result of them being weaned on the easier, more linear structures of film.
‘Vlhat I’m doing is antithetical to film structure,’ explains Nagy. ‘There is a long history of using structures that iuxtapose different locations. Both the Greeks and Shakespeare did this. I think It’s sad that critics can’t tell the difference between TV structure and theatrical structure.’ Whatever, Disappeared melds fantasy and reality- in Nagy’s uniquely droll voice. ‘I think it’s important to note that my plays are comedies,’ she stresses. ‘Serious comedies, but comedies nevertheless.’ (Neil Cooper) Disappeared, Midnight Theatre Co, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, 29 March—2 April, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, 11-15 April. Playwrighting Workshop with Phyllis Nagy, Traverse Theatre, 20-21 May.
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