Why Pinter is a new game for Gemmell

John Simm as Jerry in rehearsal for Betrayal.
John Simm as Jerry in rehearsal for Betrayal.
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RUTH Gemmell remembers full well the first time she saw Harold Pinter’s landmark dark play about love, relationships and human frailty.

“I was 13, in Harrogate,” recalls the actress, who grew up in Darlington. “I was in ‘the gods’ so I didn’t see very much of what was going on on stage. I just remember it being quite grim, but it stuck in my mind.

John Simm as Jerry in rehearsal for Betrayal.

John Simm as Jerry in rehearsal for Betrayal.

“Now that I’m older I’m drawn to those sort of dilemmas on stage. It’s lovely to look at it as an older woman.”

Ruth wasn’t initially cast in the Crucible’s revival of Pinter’s Olivier Award-winning 20th play.

Life On Mars, Mad Dogs and Doctor Who star John Simm, returning after his triumphant 2010 Hamlet, and Colin Tierney, who was Horatio in that production, were initially recruited alongside BAFTA-winner Juliet Aubrey.

But following an announcement that her fellow former Primeval star was out due to “unforeseen circumstances” Ruth got the call to play Emma.

Colin Tierney and Ruth Gemmell in rehearsal for Betrayal

Colin Tierney and Ruth Gemmell in rehearsal for Betrayal

“I’ve not been privy to anything. I’m just doing my job,” she says when pressed for gossip about the ‘substitution’. “I have none I’m afraid. I had just got back from holiday in Sri Lanka so it was a nice way to come home. It was out of the blue and they were in the middle of it so it was a decision that needed to be made quickly. I jumped at the chance because I’ve never played Pinter.

“It’s a fantastic challenge, a fantastic play and a privilege to do. It was quite scary at the beginning but we’re finding our feet.”

That said, Ruth’s CV suggests she is well versed in the art of playing bruised personalities and tragic characters.

On TV she is arguably best known for her stints as Albert Square’s Debra Dean, but has also given compelling shifts in Jimmy McGovern’s Moving On and as a mother who abandoned her child in the 2004 film Tracy Beaker’s Movie Of Me.

Ruth Gemmell in rehearsal for Betrayal_

Ruth Gemmell in rehearsal for Betrayal_

And her on-screen love life was troubled, for slightly less traumatic reasons, in the 1997 film Fever Pitch, opposite Colin Firth.

Betrayal is, of course, a very contrasting ball game to Nick Horby’s football-themed tale. Penned in 1978, it is regarded as one of Pinter’s most dramatic works, not least as it was believed to have been inspired by the writer’s seven year extra marital affair with BBC presenter and journalist Joan Bakewell.

“Over the years and later they were perhaps more open about that so it’s a fascinating story to look back at. It’s autobiographical, in a sense.

“He wrote it as a play and there was a lot of discussion around it, so I don’t try and be Joan Bakewell. I made a conscious decision not to do that.”

The play does bear some similarity to the production that last brought Ruth to Sheffield 10 years ago, however.

She starred in a then new Peter Gill play called Kick For Touch in a season of the writer’s works.

“It was in the Studio, a four-hander but about a relationship between three people, so kind of the same again,” she recalls.

“I had a lovely time, fond memories. The Winter Garden was just being built so I’m quite excited to see what that’s like.”