Antonia Fraser recalls reassuring Joan Bakewell that Emma – the character she inspired – was “by far the most honourable character” in Harold Pinter’s semi-autobiographical play . Performed by Ruth Gemmell with a touching mixture of poise and vulnerability, she is also by far the most engaging. John Simm, as her lover Jerry, gets more out of his scenes with her husband Robert Colin Tierney than those with Gemmell, in which he plays more heavily on Jerry’s apathy than on the magnetism that must have initially seduced Emma. Resultantly, this relationship lacks some chemistry.
Contrastingly, the scenes between Simm and Tierney (as well as those between Tierney and Gemmell) fizz with that particular brand of Pinteresque menace. Perhaps this is apt, given Robert’s blunt response to the revelation of Emma’s infidelity: that he always liked Jerry more than he liked her.
The production benefits greatly from Colin Richmond’s stylish design, which both captures the essence of the 1970s time period, and provides a distinctive aesthetic. This is further enhanced by Peter Mumford’s sleek lighting and Alex Baranowski’s haunting compositions. Further credit goes to the competent stage management team, which has perfected the intricate scene changes: an engaging part of the performance in themselves. Under the unifying eye of Nick Bagnall’s direction, all elements fuse into a very satisfying production of Pinter’s masterpiece.
Betrayal runs at the Crucible, Sheffield until 9 June. For futher information visit www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk.