Harold Pinter’s ‘Betrayal’ Told Through a Millennial, Filipino-Brit Woman’s Perspective
Manila-born, New York and London-based actor and director Victor Lirio is set to helm Nobel Prize-winning British playwright Harold Pinter’s Betrayal this March, marking his directorial debut for Repertory Philippines.
As the inaugural production of REP’s 2024 season and its Manila debut, Betrayal, which is inspired by Pinter’s own seven-year affair, employs a reverse-chronological structure that unravels the complex web of relationships among three characters – Emma, Robert, and Jerry. The show explores themes of infidelity, deception, and the passage of time as it tells the story of a seven-year extramarital affair in reverse chronological order.
This staging of the Pinter play, which first opened in the West End in 1978, will be set in present-day London, narrated through the perspective of second-generation Filipino-Brits. Vanessa White, James Bradwell, and James Cooney embody the characters envisioned by Lirio, drawing from their own experiences as Filipino-Brits based in London.
The story begins in the present, with the meeting of Emma (played by Vanessa White) and Jerry (played by James Cooney), whose seven-year affair ended two years earlier. Emma’s marriage to Robert (played by James Bradwell), Jerry’s best friend, is now collapsing, leaving her in need of someone to confide in.
Lirio notes that previous productions of the play have predominantly been told from a mid-40s, male perspective. In this rendition, he aims to present the play through Emma’s lens, now as a 30-something millennial.
“[Betrayal] is perhaps the only play of [Harold Pinter] that goes back in time chronologically and our job as a company is to justify that,” says Lirio. “I wanted the revisitation of the scenes of the past, these nine scenes that are highlights of nine years of epic events and life experiences […] I wanted it from a woman’s perspective, why she conjures up the scenes from the past.”
In exploring the story from a millennial viewpoint, Lirio poses questions such as, “What happens if Robert and Emma were 18 when they first met? Or 20’ Because our 20’s are incredible formative years; so much happens. What happens when they are in their early 30’s in the present time? How would those life experiences inform the expression of the play? We’re gonna hopefully motivate that.”
Lirio adds that depicting the narrative from a second-generation immigrant perspective will resonate, considering Pinter’s upbringing in a Polish-Jewish immigrant household in London.
The characters Robert and Jerry were at the apex of their lives during their time at Cambridge and Oxford, both serving as editors of their respective poetry magazines and publications. Lirio emphasizes, “Having Filipino-looking people at the physical representation of James Cooney and James Bradwell telling that story, I believe, is already compelling. A physical representation of Vanessa White being the head curator of the Saatchi Gallery in London is already aspirational because it is very rarely told that Filipinos in those positions are expressed. We see a lot of caregivers, we see a lot of doctors, but we rarely see people that look like us in these types of stories and genres, in a Pinter play no less.”
Manila-based actors Jef Flores and Regina De Vera are cast in the show as covers. Joining Lirio in the creative team are Miguel Urbino (set design), John Batalla (lighting design), Fabian Obispo (sound design), and Becky Bodurtha (costume design).
Betrayal will run from March 1 to 17, 2024 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium of RCBC Plaza. Tickets are available through Ticketworld.