Betrayal – Footnotes
These footnotes are a follow-up to our live discussion in episode six of the podcast, including a selection of points from my researches that we didn’t happen to include, as well as follow-up on any facts and questions that came up during our conversation with Mark.
Joan Bakewell’s version of Betrayal
During our conversation in part one of episode six, we talked about the seven-year long affair that Harold Pinter had with Joan Bakewell, on which his play is based. As Mark pointed out, Bakewell was not happy at the way their relationship was portrayed in the play. In fact back in 1978, the year Betrayal premiered, she wrote her own play in response, giving a different slant on the same affair. Her play, Keeping in Touch, was not produced until it appeared as a radio play on the BBC in 2017.
In Bakewell’s version of the affair, she emphasizes the restrictions that the woman feels within her marriage: “Three years at university and here I am stuck at home with small children,” she pointedly tells her husband, adding “Is this it?”. She is tempted to embark on affair with a famous architect who is pursuing her, but only does so when in a twist on the central scene in Pinter’s play, she discovers while in Venice with her husband that he has been unfaithful.
Perhaps the differences in their portrayals only affirms one of the themes of Betrayal: that we each create our own version of truth.
The Romantic Island of Torcello
The island of Torcello on which Robert read Yeats in his idealistic youth, and which he and Emma were to re-visit during their stay in Venice, sits in the lagoon some 40 minutes by vaporetto from Venice proper. It is well off the beaten tourist track, so if you make the effort to go out there you will find a beautifully peaceful place. There are few inhabitants or dwellings; most prominent is the 11th century church, with its striking bell tower and magnificent Byzantine mosaics. The island also has literary associations: Ernest Hemingway spent a month here in 1948, staying at the small hotel on the island writing his novel Across the River and into the Trees.
Torcello is the perfect place to reference the romantic and literary past for Emma and Robert.
1970s Society – The times Betrayal was written in
We talked briefly in our conversation about the society in 1978 when Betrayal was written. The 1970s was a period of significant social change, and some of these trends are reflected in the lives of the characters. In the early 1970s the so called “women’s liberation movement” was gaining momentum, with wide spread media attention and national conferences being organised. One of the tenants of ‘Women’s Lib’ was the call to allow women to look beyond the limited role of mother and housewife. Germaine Greer’s “The Female Eunuch” proposing that the traditional suburban family represses women (rendering them eunuchs) was a bestseller at the time. Emma is in the forefront of this change, with her busy job running an Art Gallery while maintaining the life of the family.
The 1960s and 70s also heralded an era of increased sexual promiscuity. There were several developments that helped fuel this sexual freedom. The contraceptive pill became available to married women in 1961 and to all women via the NHS in 1967. In 1967 the Abortion Act was passed legalizing abortion, and homosexuality was de-criminalised.
In the early 1970s the UK divorce law also changed to establish a spouse’s equal right to the property of marriage. This would establish conditions that would enable women to exit a marriage. The divorce rate in the UK doubled between 1971 and 1980.
The 1970s also saw an increase in reported incidents of domestic violence, perhaps reflecting the beginning of a change in attitude to the acceptability of the behaviour that Robert refers to so casually in the play. Women’s Refuges were set up in several cities and Victim Support was founded in 1974 with 30 schemes in operation around the country by 1978.
While the play still betrays some of the now outdated features of gender relationships, we also recognise the emerging shape of our world.
If you are interested in buying the play text or other related books, we’d be delighted if you choose to purchase them by following the links below. We will earn a small commission on every book you purchase, which helps to keep the podcast going. You will also be supporting an independent bookseller. Thank you.
Suggest a play
We’re always open to suggestions about plays to talk about, so if you’d like us to discuss a favourite of yours, please email us at email@example.com. Let us know why you think we should cover it, and if you know anyone who’d be excited and qualified to talk about it with us (even yourself if modesty permits!).
You might also be interested in …
David Mamet’s play Oleanna about the abuse of patriarchal power caused intense controversy and divided audiences when it was first produced in 1992. It is now being revived at the Theatre Royal Bath. How will we see the sensitive issues it raises differently nearly 30 years on in the light of the #MeToo movement? The acclaimed director of this new production, Lucy Bailey, joins me to explore this explosive work.
Note: this episode contains some strong language.
Kenneth Cranham and Claire Skinner c Simon Annand
Florian Zeller’s disturbing and moving play The Father presents a piercing portrait of a family living with dementia. Anyone who has witnessed the cruel effects of the disease will recognise painful truths in the play, and everyone will be unsettled by its inventive dramatic form. The Father premiered in Bath in 2014 before award-winning runs in London and on Broadway. It has now also been made into a feature film with Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Coleman due for UK release in January 2021. I’m delighted and honoured to be joined in this episode by the renowned playwright and screenwriter Sir Christopher Hampton, who translated the original play and co-wrote the film’s screenplay
Winsome Pinnock’s powerful new play Rockets and Blue Lights explores the continuing legacy of the slave trade by allowing the lost voices of the past to merge into our current re-examination of history and black identity. The play won the 2019 Alfred Fagon Award and was in preview at the Manchester Royal Exchange earlier in 2020 when the Covid pandemic cruelly closed our theatres. I’m especially honoured during Black History Month to talk with Winsome Pinnock about her wonderful play.
Before the theatres went dark this month I was lucky enough to see Caryl Churchill’s A Number at the Bridge, and spend more than seven hours in thrall to Robert Lepage’s Seven Streams of the River Ota at the National. Plus, some thoughts on what we miss when there is no theatre.
Another great mix of shows this month, from Tom Stoppard’s new play, to Ibsen, Beckett and newer plays in smaller London venues.
The January roundup included both classic plays, such as The Duchess of Malfi, Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters, as well as recent musicals Dear Evan Hansen and Girl from the North Country …