Jamie Lloyd did not grow up seeing theater.
But, as the British director of “Betrayal” reflects on his childhood living on the southern coast of England, he sees the foundations of a life in drama.
Lloyd grew up living above a costume shop, owned by mother, from which he and his cousins would borrow outfits to shoot music videos and entertain each other.
At one point, his mother and his first stepfather, a children’s entertainer, housed lodgers, including a snake charmer, who kept her pythons in his paddling pool.
However, amid this colorful backdrop, Lloyd also witnessed violent behavior from his stepfather. That’s where he found kinship with the playwright Harold Pinter, whose work highlights the “dark underbelly” of everyday life, but with typical British restraint.
“We never really say what we feel or think and of course Harold’s great skill is understanding that language is a way of concealing what we think or feel,” Lloyd said.
His obsession with Pinter led Lloyd, a former associate director at the Donmar Warehouse and now head of his own production company backed by Ambassador Theatre Group, to devote a six-month season on the West End to the playwright. The last show of that season, “Betrayal,” which stars Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Cox and Zawe Ashton, transferred to Broadway this fall.
Sporting a beanie, and bedecked with silver chains and tattoos, Lloyd spoke with Broadway News on the day of Pinter’s birthday, which he later celebrated with members of his cast.
Broadway News: When did you first discover Harold Pinter’s work?
Jamie Lloyd: It was my first ever production as a director in my own right. It was Harold Pinter’s “The Caretaker” at a regional theater called the Crucible Theatre. We staged this play with the audience on three sides with a stellar cast and Harold came to see it. This was in 2006. And so I got to know him in the last couple of years of his life.
BN: What was your relationship like with him?
Lloyd: The first time I went to see him in his home, I remember dressing up in my suit and being incredibly nervous. But ultimately it became kind of like going to visit your granddad. He was a very generous, very, very funny man. Contrary to public belief, he was very open about discussing the plays in detail and their meaning and looking for ways to decipher them.
I find his plays very funny. And I think he was really keen I explore that and not take the pauses and silences, the famous Pinter pauses, and use them as musical devices. He would always say “Test out the pauses. Test out the silences. If they’re interesting, if they’re doing something very specific and very true then use them. If not, cut them.”
BN: How did you arrive at your stripped down approach to “Betrayal”?
Lloyd: I felt like it was a really delicate crystal of a play and that it needed a very light touch. And I know that there have been productions in which there have been naturalistic sets for each scene, but I could feel something that was deeply fragile, and I wanted absolute connection with the actors. So I didn’t want to set it in the period, otherwise we’d have to get into big, fake sideburns and wigs and dodgy ‘70s dresses. I didn’t want anything that was going to hold the actors at arm’s length from the audience.
BN: Has the production changed at all in the transfer to Broadway?
Lloyd: I think there’s more of an edge. I recently saw it for the first time in a month, and I really felt I was watching a Pinter play, but there was a real sense of menace in it, which is a kind of new ingredient for the production, particularly in Tom’s performance.
BN: As head of the Jamie Lloyd Company, how do you feel about producing the work that you’re also directing?
Lloyd: I love it. One of the reasons why I agreed to create the company with ATG was that I was a little sick of being a director for hire and not able to consider the entire approach. As a director for hire, you might see the poster for the first time at the same time as the audience. So having a kind of input in that and making those decisions can only be better for the work itself. Things like, as the audience come up to the theater, who you are greeted by, what they look like, how they behave, what they’re wearing, what the front of house looks like, all of that informs the experience as you see the play or the musical. So that’s a very satisfying thing to be a part of.
BN: On the West End, you’re known for creating accessibility programs, including offering £15 tickets and even free tickets, through your company. Do you think that’s possible to do on Broadway?
Lloyd: Things cost a lot of money here and balancing the books is a lot harder on Broadway than it is in the West End. Certainly we’ve tried to do what we can with our lottery and rush seats, as many other productions do. But we’re at the early stages of conversations, and I’d love to talk to other organizations and producers here about how that might work, because I think it probably needs to be something that happens across the entire Broadway community, rather than just one single production. But I really do feel that if ultimately theater is about connecting to each other and understanding each other and ourselves a little better, then we need to offer that opportunity to as many different people as possible.