"In a way," Leveaux says, "the Pinter pause is an overstated commodity. It's an association with Pinter that acquired a kind of separate life of its own. But the pauses are there for very practical reasons, really--sometimes, just to indicate a flight of thought, which is a thought that can't be expressed entirely in words and sometimes doesn't need to be expressed in words. They're part of the language of the play. They're not intended to create a kind of mysterious imitation of deep thought. You ignore them at your peril, but they're not there simply to be observed as some kind of holy writ."
Leveaux is only one of many notable Pinter interpreters. Another is Peter Hall, the former head of the Royal National Theatre, who directed the first productions of many Pinter plays. Hall's diaries, published in 1983, include various updates on Betrayal through the 1978 rehearsal period. Declaring that Emma is "the best woman's part that Harold has ever written," Hall writes on October 24: "Not a good day rehearsing Betrayal. Everything seems to have got smoothed out. It's calm, bland and boring; all tension has evaporated. But this happens, working with a Pinter play. Suddenly it goes. Until the actors are absolutely sure of their inner life and can play it passionately, their outer life, as expressed simply by what they say, can take over and appear insubstantial. The text is written to be supported by the immense strength of the feelings underneath. In fact, it disguises the feelings."
Another assiduous Pinter observer is his biographer, the London-based critic Michael Billington. Despite having written about Betrayal, when it opened, that he wasn't interested in "the sex lives of Hampstead intellectuals," Billington seems to have gained Pinter's confidence for The Life and Work of Harold Pinter (1996). And he seems to have gained the confidence of the playwright's associates as well. A case in point is Joan Bakewell, a woman with whom Pinter had a long-term affair just before writing Betrayal. There seems to be little question the play is, at the very least, inspired by Pinter's connection with Bakewell and her husband Michael, who may not have been Pinter's best friend but was a professional acquaintance. Joan Bakewell has said to Billington about the chronically terse Pinter, "I think he mines exhaustively what is happening to him." The most Pinter confesses to Billington is that "Betrayal is about a nine-year relationship between two men."
Of course, most authors draw on their experiences when they sit down to process words. The superior ones--and Pinter is unquestionably among them--transmute those experiences into something known as art. Stanley Kauffmann, reviewing the first American production of Betrayal, disliked its "world-in-my-drawing-room society" view but failed to note that the play continued Pinter's compulsive examination of time and memory. By reversing time in Betrayal, Pinter throws heavy emphasis on it--and on the fact that memory both serves people and does them myriad disservices. It's no accident that Pinter adapted John Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman, which mingles two distinct time frames, for Karel Reisz's distinguished movie. He also turned Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time into a respected screenplay that has not been filmed as yet.
Maybe the last word on Pinter--for the fleeting moment, anyway--should be given to the hard-working Leveaux. The director finds that, whenever he has tackled Betrayal, "there are things that leap from the play that have never leapt at me before. This is a writer in total command of the facts. He has a ruthless grasp of reality, which is one of the things that make his writing radical and energetic. He penetrates reality until he reaches the point where what a character says or does is absolutely essential. Pinter is a realist in the most radical sense. He's one of those writers who made us hear the English language again. He altered the way we hear the English language. Very few writers do that."