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Live / stage review

Betrayal / 22nd May / The Crucible.

The Sheffield Theatres production of Harold Pinter's Betrayal debuted recently at The Crucible. A social commentary on relationships, Pinter's play focuses on the aspects of deception and disloyalty, and is considered by many to be his masterpiece. John Simm and Ruth Gemmell play Jerry and Emma, lovers who had an affair for seven years during the 1970s, with Colin Tierney completing the principal cast as Emma's husband Robert, who is also the best friend of Jerry. The play is performed in reverse so that we begin with the aftermath and finish with the moment that started it all. As a result of this, the production can't help but start a little slowly, as we are given the individual pieces of the puzzle. As the play unfolds though, each scene lends more gravitas to the one before. It would be giving too much away to reveal the number of betrayals at work here, but it's safe to say this is a play which adds layers piece by piece before inviting you to look back and make a final judgement. I must admit that there were many aspects of the play that left me cold. Pinter's starting point appears to be a general acceptance that people will have affairs and that they can be fallen into very easily. He also seems more interested in the relationship between Jerry and Robert, with both men directly implying that their relationship with each other is more important than the one they have with Emma. This isn't to say that their relationship isn't fascinating, particularly during scenes in which both are deceiving the other person. However I couldn't help but wonder if this wasn't just casual sexism, and indeed whether such a play would be performed so readily if it was two ladies and a single man. Betrayal has been read as a heart-breaking commentary on love, but I found it more to be a commentary on male pride and arrogance. None of this is to criticise the production itself. The claustrophobic Crucible stage was given a minimalistic makeover and the simple but effective costumes expertly performed their function to take us back in time with each scene. Nick Bagnall directed ably and the play is performed with the sort of quality you now take as a given since Daniel Evans took over the running of this fine theatre. Ruth Gemmell plays Emma as a more nervous character than I was expecting, far more aware of her situation than the affable, borderline ignorant Jerry. She is sympathetic, if contradictory in her actions. Simm is brilliant as Jerry, especially in the scenes where he betrays his charms to reveal a frightened boy who seemingly cannot ever believe he would be discovered. But Tierney trumps both. He played second fiddle to Simm during The Crucible's production of Hamlet, but he takes centre-stage here. His hints and nudges as he slowly reveals the truth are expertly done, and the scene where he discovers the full extent of the affair is the most moving in the production. Ultimately, this is a fine version of a brilliant but cynical play. Despite the faults I had with it, I cannot deny that it got under my skin and 24 hours later has still yet to leave. Pinter questions the loyalty in all of us and asks us how much we really know about the people we love. Perhaps I live in a different time with different people, but I find such a starting point hard to accept. After all, it is trust that formed those relationships in the first place, and as Pinter proves, without trust... all you have is betrayal. )

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