Out of breath, we finally reached the function room of the condominium. The cast were rehearsing and the crew working closely to help them work their characters to life. We took a seat in the corner quietly as to not disturb the actors at work when the Asyraf, the director and Bahiroh, the dramaturg, greeted us. After exchanging pleasantries she told us a bit about the play.
Being an adaptation of Harold Pinter’s work, Betrayal was first staged in 1978 in London. The production house, Allnighter Productions, chose to adapt this play and put a local spin to it. Faithful to how Pinter first wrote the play, the story still revolves around three main characters; Emma, who is married to Robert, and has an affair with Jerry, her husband’s best friend. When asked how did they arrive at the decision of adapting Betrayal, Bahiroh says that this story of infidelity is rarely ever shown in media. It also portrays betrayal from a feminist perspective as we discover Emma’s situation and reasoning towards the end of the play, as to why she betrays both men.
A story about infidelity is not uncommon but this play is insightful simply because it puts into perspective how powerful communication is in relationships. Phraveen Arikiah who plays Robert agrees that nobody really talks about cheating, not only in open spaces but also intimate ones too. “It’s such a taboo subject. Hopefully when people see this play they’ll think of discussing and speaking more about their relationships with friends, lovers, parents, and basically everyone,” says he. Perhaps this play may serve us some thought in reevaluating how we communicate in relationships in this day and age, especially in a world where social media and virtual reality come into play. Though written almost 40 years ago, these couples face several conflicts along the play because they could not or would not discuss their intentions, desires and problems efficiently. In one scene, Jerry only picks up on Robert’s anger when he begins raising his voice but still was not fully expressing what he was angry about.
We asked why the independent production house chose theater instead of film to tell this story. The director, Asyraf Dzahiri together with Allnighter Productions has a shortlisted film by Astro Shaw’s Shortcuts so they were definitely more than capable to carry this story to the screen but they still chose the stage. Was this an act of being faithful to the text or was it an artistic decision? To this, the director comments on how he prefers the audience to use their imagination to bring the story to life, and the stage allows that more than the screen does. Interestingly, Asyraf, who is an engineering graduate, has always been passionate about bringing together the concepts of engineering and structures into theatre. Looking at the set and props which are just some white cubes that change in arrangements throughout the play, you can definitely tell that Asyraf is definitely staying true to his words and intentions.
The cast however believes that the stage brings the story the depth it deserves. Vinna Law, who plays Emma in the play, comments that this role means a lot to her emotionally and having an audience within breathing space of the actress, helps in her telling the story effectively. “A play only needs three things; a stage, an actor and an audience. You don’t even need a director. No offence Asyraf,” she says while the room nods and giggles. Phraveen again agrees that because this story is set on stage is why it is different from all the other stories of extramarital affairs. He believes that theatre brings a human touch to the story allowing us to see ourselves in the characters due to the lack of a screen in front of us.
I suppose it’s also why such stories should be presented on stage. The actors all agreed that the reactions they get from people who watch their plays usually range from gratitude to surprise, especially coming from those who were not aware of our local emerging theatre scene. “It’s funny, sometimes they come up to you and say ‘Oh they have stories like this here? We didn’t know!” Phraveen recounts an encounter he had with an audience previously. Vinna adds on to say that theatre is the space where stories that ‘don’t usually fit the mainstream’ gets to be told on stage. Perhaps this explains the gratitude and ‘thank yous’ that they, as actors and practitioners, typically receive from the audience.
Personally, this play definitely made us (the contributor writers) reflect on our lives and past relationships. Whether or not we have had an experience with infidelity, it is still something we can all relate to as love, relationship and friendships definitely play a big role in our lives. The director and casts also tried to convey the message that infidelity and cheating happen, and sometimes it does not matter who you are with in a relationship or how much effort you have put into it – the sad reality is, there is still a possibility of it happening. “We are not trying to normalise it,” Phraveen explains. “We are merely trying to convey that if you’ve gone through it, it’s not the end of the world. It sucks, yes, but it’s not the end of the world.”
A fresh perspective for some of us, but we could not agree more.
This adaptation of an English play tells a story that is surely relevant to anyone looking at relationships, communication and friendship. If you’re looking to put your imagination to work while also experiencing a conventional story told rather unconventionally, then be sure catch this play this weekend. Brought together by set of passionate people, Betrayal: an adaptation will surely leave you impressed by the performance of the actors and actress and also the directing and execution of this story on a Malaysian stage.
This article is written by Nadya.
Betrayal: an adaptation will be showing at Damansara Performing Arts Centre(DPAC) on the 15th of April. For ticketing info, please go to http://dpac.com.my/page/ticket/bookTicket/view/643.html