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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Comedy


  Kirstin Scott Thomas/ Ph: Johan Persson

“I thought of you the other day.” “Good God. Why?”
It takes just a handful of ordinary words to inflict searing pain in Harold Pinter’s 1978 play. And that’s apt for an anatomy of the intersecting public and private lives of three people caught at the sharp, lacerating corners of an unsustainable love triangle. For in this treacherous geometry, even language itself proves deceptive.
Take that simple exchange. It takes place between literary agent Jerry and Emma, the wife of his best friend Robert, a publisher. For seven years, Jerry and Emma had an affair. In this scene, which opens the play, the affair is over, and they meet again in a London pub. Emma’s tentative remark is a veiled allusion to the intimacy they once shared. Jerry’s response callously crushes it, and effectively negates all the tenderness they had together. There’s no comfort to be had here; there’s no going back.
If that seems cruel – and in this finely judged production by Ian Rickson, it certainly does – then what follows can be only more painful, illuminated as it is by the harsh light shed on it by its inevitable end and desultory aftermath.
The drama – famously inspired by Pinter’s own longstanding affair with Joan Bakwell – edges back through time, tracing the adulterous relationship to its source, at a party at Robert and Emma’s marital home, where Douglas Henshall’s married Jerry first made his clumsy, drunken declaration of illicit passion. And just as significantly, it charts the decline of Jerry and Robert’s friendship, a connection whose almost homoerotic intensity becomes only more marked when Robert, unbeknownst to Jerry, discovers his double betrayal.
The shifting power balance warps the intercourse between all three, as Jerry, left helpless and exposed in the dark as he attempts to maintain his hopeless lie, unwittingly makes a duped fool of himself each time he opens his mouth. And Emma and Robert’s marriage, though it limps on, becomes little more than a tainted middle-class convention of convenience.
The willowy Kristin Scott Thomas as Emma has a very controlled kind of sexiness – understated, chic, effortless – but oh, the effort etched on her pale, pointed face as she struggles to maintain her poise, torn between guilt, hurt and – as we travel towards the warm heart of her affair – secret, sensual pleasure. It’s not difficult to see why she might yearn for something less jagged, more gentle and generous than she ever seems to share with Ben Miles’ Robert.
Miles plays Robert with a brusque impatience and a dash of sadism that on two occasions threatens to erupt into violence. In the Venetian hotel room where Emma’s infidelity is exposed, he seizes a bottle as if to hurl it at Emma, then flings a handkerchief at her to wipe her tears before, drawing his weeping wife to him, he strokes her head and grips her hair.
And in an excruciating scene in an Italian London restaurant – brilliantly designed with authentic 1970s tackiness by Jeremy Herbert – he watches the contortions of Henshall’s discomfited Jerry with grim relish. As the meal grows increasingly tense, the two men aggressively refill each other’s wine glass. Robert’s rage and Jerry’s culpability charge the air, but the potentially defusing words of confession remain unspoken. The play may be a storm in a domestic teacup, but the electricity crackles and the fine bone china, once smashed, can never be fixed – or at least, not so that the cracks don’t show. Elegant agony.

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