It’s one thing to write a serious play, particularly one using squash as a metaphor for the male social games played out by the protagonists of a classic love triangle. But it’s quite another to stage that play live on a set designed to replicate the closed space of a squash court.
Nevertheless, at least two attempts have been made in recent times to do just that. The play, of course, is Harold Pinter’s 1978 masterpiece ‘Betrayal’ in which Emma betrays her husband, Robert, a publisher, by conducting a seven-year affair with his best friend, Jerry, a literary agent.
2011’s Berlin Renaissance Theatre production of the play (‘Betrogen’) used a German translation of Pinter’s text by Heinrich-Maria Ledig Rowohlt and a modular ‘glass court’ stage set. In his review, theatre critic Andrew Haydon observes:
“… the entire play turns out to be set in a squash court. The glass fourth wall does gradually recede throughout the actio, which, at least, has the effect of situating each scene in a different space, even if they are all white with a red line running round them about halfway up the wall. But even this hardly feels like an outrageous exercise in regietheater gone mad.
“The squash court is no doubt a cunning reference to one the famous motifs of Pinter’s text being Jerry and Robert […] repeatedly mentioning that they haven’t played squash together for years. Here the squash court surrounds them like an emblem of this failure, and a monument to the reason behind it.”
In 2017’s Derby Theatre production, director Lakan Lawal used a fixed ‘glass court’ stage set, the significance of which is initially missed by theatre critic Alfred Hickling in his review for ‘The Guardian’:
“Even more peculiarly, the action is encased within a rotating plastic box full of modish, transparent furniture. You can appreciate what Lawal and his designer Neil Irish are attempting to do here, since the play is written in reverse chronological order that first shows the end of the affair and eventually arrives at its beginning. But the backwards-spinning box comes with the unavoidable side-effects of isolated, artificial sound, while the walls – which could do with a wipe – heighten the impression that you might be glimpsing the action though grimy bus windows.”
However, Hickling then recovers, suggesting:
“Or perhaps it’s all meant to be happening in one of those see-through courts in which competition squash matches are played. It’s a plausible solution, given that the play’s homoerotic subtext bubbles up in a speech celebrating the testosterone-rich rituals of racket sport (first the game, then the shower, then the pint – women not welcome). And what emerges most keenly from the performances, which are generally good, is what a vituperatively misogynistic play Betrayal can be.”