By Reema Gowalla
Legendary British playwright Harold Pinter’s critically acclaimed 1978 play Betrayal is all set to grace the Bengaluru stage. After successful runs in Mumbai and Delhi, the latest adaptation of the celebrated piece — directed by Rachel D’Souza — will be performed at the iconic Ranga Shankara on September 15 and 16 by a stellar cast that includes Abir Abrar, Sukant Goel and Vivek Gomber. The play also marks Aadyam Theatre’s debut show in namma ooru.
Produced by 3 Parts Company, Betrayal is a compelling piece of drama that revolves around a love triangle. The play explores the relationships that evolve between the three central characters — Jerry, Emma and Robert. Set in 1977, the story is narrated in reverse chronology. Ahead of Betrayal’s Bengaluru premiere, Rachel and Vivek engaged in a candid conversation with TheatreRoom. Excerpts:
Q. Betrayal is your first play as a director. Any special reason you chose this particular piece by Harold Pinter?
Rachel: Well, it’s a multitude of reasons. Usually what happens with the play is that there are many small things that click and fall into place, and then you feel like, okay, I feel equipped to handle this text now. Incidentally, my first ever play was Pinter’s Mountain Language. At that time, the play was very new to me. I was about 16–17 years old and was given the role of a young woman in the 25-minute piece. Not comic at all, it was, in fact, quite dark and a tragic play. Even then, I fell in love with the economy with which Pinter wrote the piece. In 2014 again, by chance, I worked with actor-director Rupesh Tillu. He offered me the role of the wife in the play, called The Lover, by Pinter. I am realising only now that I had a very long and consistent relationship (in strange ways!) with Pinter’s writings.
It was during the pandemic that I found myself developing an interest in stories that are very intimate and small, just between two or three people; stories that might occur behind closed doors; stories that are a lot about being hidden as being revealed. The way in which Pinter does that is really remarkable, and it’s very unique to his style of writing. There’s always a thread of likeness and humour in the way characters treat each other. If you look at it in a plain and simple way, it seems cruel. But the way he writes about it, I find that I end up having a lot of empathy and compassion for each one of these characters.
Q. This play was written back in the 1970s. Did you take the artistic liberty to make it more contemporary or is it very true to the original text?
Rachel: It’s 100% true to the original text. I haven’t changed one word. I didn’t feel the need to. There are some plays that you feel like an adapted version of the text would enrich it for a new audience. But that wasn’t the case with this play. In its existing form, with the names and locations, is actually a very interesting flight for an audience. I said this to a couple of students earlier as well that when you watch stuff on OTT, a movie or a show set in the 1940s or 1950s, we don’t ask this question. Why haven’t we made it Bombay here and now? But when it comes to theatre, we constantly ask as to why the play is not adapted? The thing is that some of these classics are the richest in their existing forms.
Q. You play Robert in the play. Tell us more about your character?
Vivek: Robert is Emma’s husband and Jerry’s best friend. Jerry and Robert’s friendship goes back to their college days. They now work in the publishing industry. Since Robert went to the University of Oxford and Jerry to Cambridge University, they’re both fans of English Literature. They talk about books and such things. Robert is an all-right husband. He has his own traits. He’s married to Emma for a while, and has two kids with her.
Q. You have got quite an interesting cast together. What was the thought process behind it?
Rachel: Sukant and I have opened the 3 Parts Company, and we have worked together on the last two-three productions. We have a similar work ethos, even though our interests in plays are diverse and different. He comes from a very rich traditional taste — having worked with Sunil Shanbag and Sapan Saran. So, he has a strong relationship to the text that I don’t have. I am more into the body and movement, and that’s how I access things. But we wanted to form something together collectively, where all sorts of exploration are formed and ways to tell the story are possible. So, that was the germ idea of bringing together 3 Parts Company. For Betrayal, Sukant was always on board, because he was the one who actually made me read the play.
Vivek, on the other hand, is one of my oldest theatre colleagues. I’ve known him since he first moved to Mumbai and joined a theatre team here. I’ve always enjoyed working with him.He’s a very gifted actor, in the sense of playing with nuance and playing with complex emotions. I saw him in this film recently, called Sir. There were a couple of scenes that he did in that film where it just struck me that he’s ready to play this role. I never auditioned anyone.
Again, Abir and I had also just done a play for Aadyam in one of the previous seasons. I saw her on stage at one particular moment, and I thought she would be very interesting in this role. So, I just offered it to them, because I didn’t require an audition or a reading with these actors. For me, it was more about the interest in it.
Q. You have known Rachel for quite some time. How was it working with her on Betrayal?
Vivek: I’ve known Rachel for a while. We’ve actually worked together in a couple of plays. Back in the day, we did a play called The Real Inspector Hound by Tom Stoppard. I have also done a couple of plays for The Company Theatre, including Michael Frayn’s Noises Off, where Rachel had duties of a director among other things. So, I’ve been in the room with her more than the others. I was very excited to hear that Rachel was directing Betrayal, having seen her work in different roles in the theatre community, and just knowing her integrity and her discipline. I think we also did a workshop together with filmmaker-playwright Anamika Haksar 10–12 years ago. So, I have known Rachel in that capacity as well. I feel it’s important to have that comfort level.
And even though this is her directorial debut in a way, I was aware of her theatre foundations and fundamentals. She’s a very patient director, very precise and willing to fail and explore. These are all things that I find exciting and comfortable. And I really like the space that she’s set up. I feel comfortable being able to express myself. These things matter a lot apart from your professional sense. So it’s been a complete pleasure and a joy to work with Rachel.
I also happen to love this play a lot. When Rachel told me about it, I was over the moon, because I’ve been wanting to do this play for a long time. In fact, I wanted to direct it myself about 10 years ago. But then I got busy with producing a film at that time, so it didn’t happen.
Q. Tell us about your experience of working with Sukant and Abir…
Vivek: It’s my first time working with Abir and Sukant. I am also a fan of Sukant. I really like his work. I saw him in Monica, O My Darling, and I knew of him as an actor in Mumbai as well. He is quite brilliant in the play. He has a good sense of discipline.
I have known Abir as a person and a friend. I think I did a workshop with her as well. I have seen some of her plays as part of Akvarious Productions.
I must also mention Anushka Lewis here, who’s done the music for the play. And along with that, we have another actor, called Sarthak Sharma, who’s playing the waiter, but is also involved in a very different aspect, in terms of Rachel’s design elements for the play, because the actors are also moving props.
Q. Bengaluru is known for its love for theatre. What are your thoughts about the city?
Rachel: I love Bengaluru. It’s where I started doing theatre in India. When Ranga Shankara was being built, there was an entire team of young volunteers that got on a bus and travelled overnight to the city to help the opening-festival team, and I was among them. I still remember the day the stage was inaugurated and the very first festival had 35 plays in 35 languages. I was one of the people meant to supply costumes and teas and coffees and do all of that. So it’s very special to me. And the Bengaluru audiences are always amazing. They’re very responsive to stories and theatre that comes from other parts of the country. So, I really enjoy being in the city for sure.
Vivek: Many years ago, we performed The Real Inspector Hound at Ranga Shankara. It was a crazy cast that included Ali Fazal, Neil Bhoopalam, Kalki Koechlin, Gulshan Devaiah and Rachel. Apart from that, I was in the city at one point for a lighting workshop at Jagriti Theatre. So yeah, I have a lot of love for Bengaluru whenever I’ve had a chance to perform here.
Catch the shows of Betrayal at Ranga Shankara on September 15 (at 7.30pm) and on September 16 (at 3.30pm and 7.30pm). You can book your tickets here.