This play is Pinterism by stealth.

Comedy Theatre, London SW1

If, during the first couple of scenes of Ian Rickson's new production of Betrayal, you're sitting a little too comfortably, thinking that Harold Pinter might have forsaken menacing absurdism for middle-class melodrama (the play was, after all, inspired by Pinter's real-life affair with Joan Bakewell in the 1960s), the reverse time-travel of the subsequent scenes destroys any such notion. This is Pinterism by stealth, and all the more unsettling for it.

Kristin Scott Thomas is mesmerising, her signature tristfulness entirely apt for Emma - the woman at the centre of this love triangle - who is married to the publisher Robert but having (or just ending) a long affair with the literary agent Jerry, also Robert's best friend. Or is he? The way the characters dissect their relationships with each other betrays an unreliability of recollection that is a leitmotif of the play.

Douglas Henshall plays Jerry with a mixture of humour and quiet paranoia, his plodding Scots accent lending the character an affability that sometimes borders on disingenuousness, his fixed grin masking a kind of recklessness. Ben Miles as Robert, on the other hand, is classic Pinter, a dangerous manipulator whose temper may erupt at any moment; but then he is also the cuckolded husband, aware of the affair for far longer than he has let on, his pain palpable.

The use of backwards chronology allows Pinter to peel away the layers of the affair for­ensically. As well as betraying each other, the characters inadvertently betray themselves as we keep discovering what really happened. But the linking device of having Jerry stand at the side of the stage during each scene change compounds the sense of unreliability, as if we were delving into his private, selective memory.

There is a vacuum at the heart of this production, though, and it's sex: this is a relationship that seems more theoretical than truly passionate, despite a bedroom tryst in the rented Kilburn flat. The shabby room, with its peeling blue wallpaper and Seventies pine furniture that dominates the set, seems symbolic of this. Conversely the oft-mentioned Torcello, that mysterious islet in the Venetian lagoon, seems to represent some never-quite-reached state of bliss. It is only Robert who goes there, alone, to read Yeats - the poet of betrayal.

Thomas Calvocoressi is Chief Sub (Digital) at the New Statesman and writes about visual arts for the magazine.

This article first appeared in the 27 June 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The food issue