It was the things not said, rather than the dialogue written, that kept calling theatre producer and actor Asad Khan back to Harold Pinter's play, Betrayal.
The story unravels a seven-year affair between a married couple, Emma and Robert, and their close friend, Jerry. Told in reverse, the play begins after the affair has ended and concludes as the affair begins.
“I first read it about five years ago and it was breathtaking,” Khan, who lives in Dubai, says. “What he says between the lines is super and he actually mentions the pauses within the script. You’ll have a flow going and there’d be ‘pause’, ‘silence’ or ellipses. That really fascinated me.”
Khan didn't get to see the script brought to life until 2019, when he watched arguably one of the most high-profile productions of the play. The Broadway performance starred Thor actor Tom Hiddleston and was critically acclaimed for the way it translated Pinter's cut-throat suspense on stage.
“It blew my mind,” Khan says. “I was like, ‘this is a production I would love to bring to the UAE'.”
And that is just what he has done. Betrayal, starring Khan, Lydia De Medeiros and Arjun Burman, will be performed at The Junction from Thursday until Saturday.
Bringing the play to the Alserkal Avenue stage has been a thorny two-year endeavour, laced with numerous setbacks, most of which came about because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Khan had received the Broadway licence to stage the play as early as November 2019. "Getting the licensing and the rights for the production was a painful process," Khan says.
“Normally it’s a little bit easier for classic plays, but because this one was happening on Broadway, we had to send them profiles of the actors, what we were thinking about lights and design, our previous work. They didn’t want to issue it to just anybody to tarnish the name of the play."
With the licence in hand, Khan and his team began preparing to launch the play in April 2020. But, only a few weeks away from opening night, stay-at-home measures amid the spread of Covid-19 were imposed.
“That was another big challenge,” Khan says. “We waited until November, until things got a little better and people started getting vaccinated. Events were on again and we decided ‘OK, now is the time’."
Instead of rehearsing together in the Alserkal Avenue space, Khan and the rest of the cast began practising their lines on Zoom. For a live medium such as theatre, it was an obvious hurdle but Khan says safety was the first priority.
“The first rehearsal we did on stage was surreal,” he says. “The physical energy is completely different than the vibe that you get online. That first rehearsal, we had no idea what to do with our hands, with our posture, how to read off each other’s faces. Obviously things started getting easier after that, but that first week was really awkward.”
Only a few weeks ago, the production encountered another setback. The actress who was initially cast to play Emma tested positive for Covid-19.
“Luckily not too many members of the cast and crew had interacted with her, so it was a tighter bubble that we had to take care of," Khan says. "Rehearsals shifted online again, we went into quarantine, took tests twice to ensure no one else was affected and then eventually we got Lydia on board. We decided the show must go on.”
The actor who was billed to play Robert also had to drop out for personal reasons, causing his understudy, Burman, to take over.
Khan says after two-and-half years of working to bring Betrayal to Dubai, he's excited to see the play finally coming to life. "It's challenging," he says. "The industry is going through a tough time, not just in the UAE, but across the world. But we're trying to get through this."
Betrayal is at The Junction in Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz, from Thursday to Saturday, at 7pm. A matinee will also be held at 3pm on Saturday. Tickets are available at bookmyshow.com