When I interviewed director Mike Nichols last year, he noted that his eclectic career had never encompassed plays by either William Shakespeare or Harold Pinter. “I may now be too old,” said the amazingly accomplished director, then 80, who was about to win his 10th Tony Award for his work on Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” He’s apparently had second thoughts and Harold, not Bill, has got him. This fall, he will direct Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz in a revival of Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal,” co-starring Rafe Spall. The production will begin performances on October 14 at the Ethel Barrymore on Broadway.
The couple, married in real-life, will play husband and wife, Robert and Emma, in Pinter’s astringent look at marital relationships based on the his own seven-year affair with Joan Bakewell, a BBC-TV presenter. Rafe Spall (“Prometheus”) will join them as Jerry, Robert’s best friend who embarks on a seven-year adulterous affair with Emma. The play premiered on Broadway in 1980 with Raul Julia, Blythe Danner, and Roy Scheider and was revived to acclaim in 2000 with Liev Schreiber, Juliette Binoche, and John Slattery. A 1983 movie with a screenplay by Pinter starred Jeremy Irons, Patricia Hodge, and Ben Kingsley.
“Betrayal” is one of the most accessible of the dramas by the Nobel Prize laureate whose dense and often opaque work can be challenging for an audience. In “Betrayal,” Pinter arranges the scenes, set in both London and Venice, in reverse chronology. It isn’t just a gimmick, as New York Times critic Ben Brantley noted in a review of a recent London production starring Kristin Scott Thomas. “How time flies in this show,” he wrote. “And warps and bends and doubles back… ‘Betrayal’ is partly about all those blurry parallel lives we live, both in reality and in our own minds, and how hard it is for us to keep them straight and hold on to them. Time won’t let us.”
Craig, who has gained international fame as James Bond, is no stranger to theater; he’s been acting on stages since the age of six. At 16, he joined London’s National Youth Theatre, eventually playing the closeted gay Mormon Joe Pitt in Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America.” He made his Broadway debut opposite Hugh Jackman in Keith Huff’s police drama, “A Steady Rain,” in 2009. This will be the first time on Broadway for both Weisz and Spall. While the revival, produced by Scott Rudin, will be one of the most highly-anticipated events of next season, it will not be the only Pinter play around then. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan will be starring in “No Man’s Land,” an ambiguous and mysterious play about four characters spending a boozy night in a grand home in Hampstead, one of whom is a stranger, a “failed, down-at-heel” poet.
Both are vintage Pinter and, as such, raise disturbing and unanswerable questions. Roger Ebert, in reviewing the 1983 film, wrote, “‘Betrayal’ shows, heartlessly, that the very capacity for love itself is sometimes based on betraying not only other loved ones, but even ourselves.”
Image: ctors Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz/Jason Merritt/Getty Images