Welcome! This is your first free article. Get more free articles when you sign up with your email.

When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other

“Arduous and opaque”

When this production was first announced, excitement over the prospect of renowned director Katie Mitchell working with Hollywood star Cate Blanchett was so high that the National Theatre had to introduce a ticket ballot to cope with demand. But the results, while intermittently intriguing, are disappointing.

Martin Crimp’s play takes its inspiration from Pamela, Samuel Richardson’s epistolary 18th-century novel – a source of considerable scandal in its day – in which a teenage serving girl is pursued, imprisoned, dominated and eventually pressured into marriage by her master, Mr B.

Blanchett and Game of Thrones’ Stephen Dillane play a couple – Woman and Man – engaged in an elaborate, seemingly eternal sexual role play. They act out this game – if that’s what it is, for no one appears to take much pleasure in it – in a suburban garage, a chilly space of grey breeze blocks, immaculately designed by Vicki Mortimer, complete with an Audi in which, perhaps inevitably, they fuck. Four silent onlookers watch these encounters – three women, one man – occasionally participating, playing the parts of schoolgirls, bridesmaids and young stud.

The play is divided into 12 scenes, but though the lights are flicked on briefly between them, there isn’t much tonal variance. Sometimes she is Pamela and he is Mr B, sometimes they switch roles. At the beginning they’re both wearing French maids’ outfits. They take turns donning a blonde wig and both wear stockings and suspenders underneath their clothes.

In one scene, he tells her to crawl on the floor for a punnet of cherries. In another, she slathers her face with shaving foam. Later, she is fingered by a young man while wearing a wedding dress, and there is more vehicular bonking; eventually a strap-on is produced and utilised. There is also an awful lot of talking – talking about penetration, power, marriage. At one point Blanchett’s character says: “I’d rather be raped than bored.” To which, Dillane responds that no woman would ever say that. Later this same line emerges from his lips. This fluidity of roles is interesting, or at least it is to begin with.

Over the course of the two-hour, interval-less production, one of the onlookers, Jessica Gunning, becomes increasingly active in their games. Sometimes she takes on the guise of Mrs Jewkes, the complicit housekeeper in Richardson’s novel, and, in the production’s most potent moment, she sings a song, rather beautifully, before kissing Blanchett’s Woman. However, she also has to endure a lot of distasteful commentary about her body, which never feels entirely justified.

Melanie Wilson’s thrumming score, though initially hypnotic quickly becomes relentless and the sexual imagery all feels a bit 1980s Playboy. While the prominent car brings JG Ballard’s Crash to mind, and some of the reversals feel a bit Lynchian, there’s a distinct absence of eroticism.

Blanchett and Dillane give admirably committed performances. Gunning is equally good in her smaller role.

Crimp and Mitchell are clearly fascinated with power, the complexity of gender and identity, the social codes and constraints to which we are all subject. But this is arduous, opaque stuff and, given the calibre of everyone involved, a bit of a let down.

Designer Vicki Mortimer: ‘If the set looks fake, you can’t expect the actor to be convincing’

Related to this Review


Production Details
Production nameWhen We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other
VenueNational Theatre
StartsJanuary 16, 2019
EndsMarch 2, 2019
Running time2hrs
AuthorMartin Crimp
DirectorKatie Mitchell
Set designerVicki Mortimer
Costume designerSussie Juhlin-Wallen
Lighting designerJames Farncombe
Sound designerMelanie Wilson
CastCate Blanchett, Babirye Bukilwa, Craig Miller, Emma Hindle, Jessica Gunning, Stephen Dillane
Production managerTom Lee
ProducerNational Theatre
VerdictCate Blanchett and Stephen Dillane star in an arduous and opaque play about sex and power inspired by Samuel Richardson's Pamela
Add New Comment
You must be logged in to comment.
Natasha Tripney

Natasha Tripney

Natasha Tripney

Natasha Tripney

Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue

Invest in The Stage today with a subscription starting at just £3.98
The Stage
© Copyright The Stage Media Company Limited 2020
Linked In