Betrayal: An Adaptation was staged at Damansara Performing Arts Centre (DPAC) yesterday after much hype and excitement surrounding the play. It revolves around three main characters, Robert (Phraveen Arikiah), Jerry (Shawn Loong) and Emma (Vinna Law) who each betray one another in different ways. Emma, who is married to Robert, betrays him by having an affair with Jerry, who is Robert’s best friend. Robert, in turn, betrays the both of them by having extra-marital affairs and not confronting Jerry after he finds out about the love affair. This Harold Pinter work was brought to life by AllNighter Productions, director Asyraf Dzahiri and dramaturg Bahiroh H. Amath.
Naturally, the first thing that the audience would notice about the play would be the set, which consisted of only white cubes that were constantly rearranged to suit the different settings throughout the nine scenes. This idea was brought forward by the director of the play, Asyraf Dzahiri, who happens to be an engineering graduate and has always envisioned bringing engineering and structural elements into theatre performances. This definitely worked well, considering it was a creative approach that is not typically used in most theatre shows. On top of that, the transitions between the scenes where the casts and crews moved around to set up the next setting were fairly smooth and did not disrupt the flow of the scenes. This is something that is worth commending since it was pretty obvious that there was no choreography involved, and yet everything was smooth and seemed very natural.
In terms of acting, however, the casts have left us with much to be desired. It was no doubt that they were brilliant actors, but the emotions that they tried to portray in this particular play did not seem to reach the audience well. A lot of the emotions that were depicted, like Robert’s anger, Jerry’s confusion, and Emma’s sadness, can only be seen through their facial expressions or tone of voice but they can hardly be felt by the audience. This may have caused some of the scenes to be rather flat and monotonous in terms of sentiments, and may have caused the audience to only watch as the play progressed without actually feeling anything for the characters or the situations depicted.
When it comes to the adaptation of the play, which was originally set and staged in London, this particular adaptation was given a (very) slight Malaysian twist by changing some of the places mentioned, for example, there were references to Sri Hartamas, Mont Kiara and Singapore. However, as an audience, I could not help but wonder if this twist was enough to localize this play, or if it was even necessary in the first place. This is because despite the slight variation, a lot of the scenes still did not seem to represent Malaysians – or to be more specific – Malaysian publishers, which Robert and Jerry were supposed to represent. It is understandable that Asyraf and Bahiroh wanted to stay true to the text by not changing it too much, but if that was the case, I feel that the changes may not have been necessary at all, as they have made very little impact, if none at all, to the play.
My favourite scene, personally, would have been the last one as I felt like that was the most important scene that has tied all loose ends together. It was the defining moment that explained the beginning of the betrayal, and also subtly hinted the abuse that Emma was facing not only from her husband, but also the emotional abuse that was caused by Jerry. However, the cast members once again seemed to have lack the emotional connection to properly portray the situation, hence they seemed very detached from any emotions even though there should have been a lot of anger, sadness and confusion involved.
To a certain extent, this play did convey the message that the actors and director initially wanted to present: That betrayal and infidelity do tend to happen, and it can especially happen when there is a lack of proper communication in relationships. However, I am not entirely sure how effective was this play in conveying that message, as the audience may have only gotten a gist of it, but not the whole depth of it. On top of that, I am uncertain as to whether it was enough to actually spark conversations about relationships and betrayal among the audience, especially when the emotions that we got from the casts and the scenes were only on the surface. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that the play was easily enjoyable, and more importantly, comprehensible even for those who do not frequent theatre performances. Combine this with the creative set direction, this play definitely deserves credit for its ambition and effort but a lot of aspects could still be improved for future productions.