There is a fantastic moment in Nick Bagnall’s thoughtful production where Colin Tierney, as Robert, stands at the front of the stage, casting an immense, forbidding shadow over proceedings. Nothing is said, but the inference is clear; the power lies with the betrayed.
Colin Tierney as Robert and Ruth Gemmell as Emma in Betrayal at the Crucible, Sheffield (previous picture shows John Simm as Jerry) Photo: Robert Day
That Tierney can project this sense of unease every time he stalks the stage is partly due to the impressively malevolent, passive aggressive sheen he gives to Robert, and partly Pinter’s perceptive - and witty - writing. In Betrayal, he tells the story of an adulterous affair in reverse - so we already know that Robert’s wife Emma (Ruth Gemmell) and best man Jerry (John Simm) have been seeing each other for so long, they’ve actually grown tired of their trysts. The drama is in knowing when Robert finds out.
Simm deals with this conceit particularly well. At the start of the play his Jerry is so hesitant, so tired, the conversation with Emma is almost uncomfortably stilted. But watching him become happier and more vivacious as time goes backwards is hugely satisfying, and in the last scene there are echoes of his Hamlet performed on the same stage two years ago: a young man driven mad by love.
With an inventive Colin Redmond design referencing a 1971 Hockney painting - the stage is a rotating circle of glass under which the mess and memories of the characters’ lives are sealed - the only real shame is that by the end one wonders why Jerry bothered. Ruth Gemmell only fleetingly offers the sense that Emma actually likes either Jerry or their arrangement - the rest of the time she’s cold, distant, annoyed, even.
Perhaps this is Gemmell and Bagnall’s reading of her character and the play - that even affairs soon lose their lustre. Pinter’s writing allows for such questions to formulate, and this production, while not perfect, revels in such open-endedness.