Walking on broken glass

John Simm as Jerry in Betrayal.
John Simm as Jerry in Betrayal.

WATCHING a play by Harold Pinter often feels like stumbling through a maze.

Nick Bagnall’s spare, abrasively brilliant production of Betrayal at Sheffield’s Crucible is more like picking your way through broken glass.

Unusually for Pinter, it has a distinct storyline, albeit told backwards, and with flashes of humour. It follows a love affair, from the destructive aftermath back to the first yearning.

Pinter’s terse dialogue comes in well-honed slivers, with the same potential for damage. The trademark pauses, too, are fraught with meaning and significance, made sharper by the foreknowledge the play’s structure provides.

John Simm, Ruth Gemmell and Colin Tierney take on the roles of the lovers and the woman’s husband: three characters who tread carefully around each other, slightly bewildered by the situation they have created, their discomfort mirrored by the unsettling use of the revolving stage.

Ruth Gemmell as Emma has the most difficult task, fighting for an identity outside the housewifely role both marriage and affair expect of her, not quite sure which she would choose if she had the choice.

John Simm’s Jerry is the man who has never quite grown up; he exudes a maverick charm clearly designed to get him what he wants.

For me, Colin Tierney as Robert gives the performance of the night, brittle and embattled, with violence and desperation never far below the surface.

It runs until June 9.#

LYNNE PATRICK