The fact that Harold Pinter’s Betrayal premiered over 30 years ago has led to a raft of national newspaper reviews of this Sheffield production comparing it to previous incarnations.
The fact is that Sheffield Crucible has never staged a production of Pinter’s classic and it has rarely been produced by Yorkshire’s major theatres. Matthew Warchus headed a production at West Yorkshire Playhouse in 1994, but there will be a number who visit Sheffield this month and see Betrayal on stage for the first time.
Those who do so may well be inspired to thank the theatre’s bosses for bringing the show to the stage. The play is a brutal, heartbreaking mesmerising piece of work and this is a production that is directed, designed, lit and acted to the point of brilliance.
The praise needs to start with, and be shared by, director Nick Bagnall and designer Colin Richmond, both well known to Yorkshire audiences. The pair appear to have worked in symbiosis to create a design that sits absolutely integrally within the direction of the show.
The action played out on top of a transparent glass stage, underneath which is littered the scattered and dirtied detritus of a life, turns the action into a metaphor of unerring accuracy.
Based on Pinter’s real-life affair with Joan Bakewell, Betrayal tells the story of an affair between Emma and Jerry, conducted behind the back of Emma’s husband Robert.
Meeting a couple of years after the end of the affair, we see the passive, dismissive attitude these former lovers have toward each other and wonder what happened to bring them to a point where they can be so ambivalent, and occasionally venomous, in their dealings with each other. And then Pinter plays the story out backwards to show us how.
Plays treating time as malleable have become often seen, but rarely can it have been bent to such powerful effect. When the beginning of the affair arrives, at the end of the play, you find yourself desperate to warn those who are about to conduct it of the heartache they are setting themselves up for. John Simm as Jerry and Colin Tierney as Robert are brilliantly combative, constantly dancing around each other like boxers in a ring, matching the muscularity of Pinter’s language.
Ruth Gemmell’s cold Emma is perhaps a little too distant and you wonder sometimes if she was ever fully in the affair between her and Jerry, but it is a small fault in an otherwise genuinely terrific production.
To June 9.