Sardonic Simm steps back in time – again – for Betrayal

Sardonic Simm steps back in time – again – for Betrayal

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UPDATED:

22:53 GMT, 24 May 2012

BETRAYAL (Crucible, Sheffield)

Verdict: Rueful Simm is back in the seventies

Harold Pinter’s play about his seven-year affair with Joan Bakewell has become part of the theatrical canon.

Michael Gambon and Penelope Wilton gave us their Harold and Joan (Jerry and Emma in the play) in Peter Hall’s original 1978 production at the National Theatre.

Last year, it was Douglas Henshall and Kristin Scott Thomas who explored the parts. Now it’s the turn of John Simm and lesser known but no less powerful Ruth Gemmell.

Back in time: John Simm as Jerry and Colin Tierney as Robert in Sheffield Theatres production of Betrayal

Back in time: John Simm as Jerry and Colin Tierney as Robert in Sheffield Theatres production of Betrayal

Written by Pinter eight years after the affair ended in 1969, it is a peculiarly uneasy experience, told backwards. It starts with the end of the affair in a pub and moves towards its furtive beginnings in Emma’s bedroom.

From start to finish it alternates between glowing desire and shame-faced guilt, but it’s also sardonically funny.

Simm is in intense, weaselly form as he goes back to the Seventies following his time in TV’s Life On Mars.

Sardonically funny: Colin Tierney as Robert and Ruth Gemmell as Emma during a bedtime scene in Betrayal

Sardonically funny: Colin Tierney as Robert and Ruth Gemmell as Emma during a bedtime scene in Betrayal

It’s not an impersonation of Pinter, but his Jerry has the old boy’s famous twinkle, the one that dimmed to late-life rage at world leaders.

His Jerry is, moreover, a rueful stooge, always the last to know — last to know it’s over and last to know that Emma’s husband Robert (his best friend) has long known of their Kilburn love nest.

Colin Tierney is a menacing presence as Robert, a jaded publisher. Plummily authoritative, he has a voice like Richard Burton. Along with Simm he renders Nick Bagnall’s production slightly mannered, leaning a little too hard on significant lines.

More natural is Gemmell, who mobilises the implacable look of a wounded wife to chilling effect. She is vigorous and emphatic.

It may sound gruelling, but it’s often surprisingly tender, and recalls the days when friends would meet for a game of squash in the week, followed by a (liquid) lunch without a care for the five-a-day thought police.