Trahisons/Betrayal

February 7, 2010By Pierre TranArchive
betrayal/trahisons lucernaire, paris

Left to right: Alexis Victor as Jerry, Sacha Petronijevic as Robert and Delphine Lalizout as Emma in Harold Pinter’s Betrayal.

Harold Pinter in French is surely a non sequitur. A few playwrights – Alan Bennett, John Osborne and Tom Stoppard spring to mind – seem essentially English in their dissection and examination of the human heart

betrayal/trahisons lucernaire, paris

Left to right: Alexis Victor as Jerry, Sacha Petronijevic as Robert and Delphine Lalizout as Emma in Harold Pinter’s Betrayal.


Harold Pinter in French is surely a non sequitur. A few playwrights – Alan Bennett, John Osborne and Tom Stoppard spring to mind – seem essentially English in their dissection and examination of the human heart something in the way their idioms, humor and acuity slice into intimate personal relations with surgical precision and expose the inner mysteries of emotional life to the audience. The late Harold Pinter qualifies as one of them.

Despite that cultural specificity, the DemainOnDéménage troupe has done an excellent job in translating and staging Betrayal (Trahisons in French), which was first produced in 1978 at the National Theatre in London.

As a great admirer of Pinter, I was curious to see how and whether his words would work in French and was relieved to discover that Eric Kahane had succeeded in translating Pinter into the language of Molière. It is interesting that Kahane chose to leave the original references to Kilburn and other London addresses in English, rather than transpose them to say, Paris’s Place des Fêtes or Buttes Chaumont. Maybe North London is untranslatable.

There are good performances from Alexis Victor (who alternates with Anatole de Bodinat in the role of Jerry) as the lover of Emma, played by the beautiful Delphine Lalizout, who is married to Robert, played by Sacha Petronijevic. Vincent Harter plays the Italian waiter. Mitch Hooper directed.

Emma, the cipher of desire, longing and love, stands between best friends Jerry and Robert. She captivates the married Jerry, who lunches regularly with Robert, who exhibits a chilling self-control and knows how to keep a secret or two.

And each betrays the other in his and her own way. Not just by the physical act – that’s to be expected – but by telling the truth and hiding the act of honesty. Confused? You won’t be if you see the play.

The three key characters play out their betrayals on the small stage in the Lucernaire’s small black theater. The stage’s closeness to the audience heightens the damped-down feelings evoked by the story, which has the intriguing quality of starting at “now” and working backward in time.

It takes some skill to interpret Pinter and draw out characters who keep repeating the same old innocuous phrases – “So, how are you?” “Fine, how are you?” And over and over, “So, how are you?” “Great, how are you?”

In these banal exchanges, each tries to seek out the truth of feeling in the other. Does she/he still love me? Miss me? Care for me? Which comes out as “So, how are you?” spoken nonchalantly as old friends do over an exceedingly English pint of beer or a restrained glass of white wine. A lightness of touch makes all the difference.

The genius of Pinter was also to stage silence. The missing words speak volumes because they are unspoken. What is unsaid is as important as the said. For a playwright who lives and dies by the word, that was radical in the day.

Do not think this is a heavy drama full of really serious matter. There is humor, too – a game of squash as a gauge of male friendship, the catty world of London publishing – which drew appreciative laughter from the French audience.

“So British” is what the French would say for something which is actually terribly English – not Irish, Scottish or Welsh. But not parochial either – would Pinter have won the Nobel Literature prize in 2005 if he were?

Following the principle that all fiction is based on real life, the British television broadcaster Joan Bakewell has revealed she conducted a long affair with Pinter, who was married to the historian and novelist Antonia Fraser. Pinter died on December 24, 2008.

Pierre Tran

Lucernaire: 53 rue Notre-Dame des Champs, 75006 Paris. Métro: Notre-Dame des Champs. Tel.: 01 42 22 26 50. Back onstage as of Sept. 15, 2010. www.lucernaire.fr

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