Theatre review: When We Have Sufficiently 
Tortured Each Other

John Nathan applauds a brave piece of theatre - but don't go if you're put off by sex and violence


Before the press night of this feverishly awaited, sold out production starring Cate Blanchett, it already had a reputation. There were warnings about the explicit nature of the material. Someone had fainted in one of the previews. I was asked by an old friend if she should worry about the sex and violence. She was one of those who had been allocated a ticket via the National’s new ballot system. But was the violence likely to be gratuitous, she asked?

Not having seen it yet, I could only go by reputations. Blanchett is dependably mesmerising, as is her co-star Stephen Dillane (so good in Brian Friel’s Faith Healer ). Then there is playwright Martin Crimp whose writing can be opaque but whose imagination is often blistering. Here his whose inspiration is Samuel Richardson’s 18th century novel Pamela, though the result is very 21st century. Most enthralling of all is Katie Mitchell, the most daring and unflinching of directors, a description which rather sums up this show.

Blanchett and Dillane’s unnamed Woman and Man enter the garage of a suburban house. They are accompanied by two young girls and a Mrs Jewkes - apparently the man’s housekeeper - and a young man who might be her nephew but whose presence, it turns out, is paid. All seem to be in service of the same objective. Dillane’s seemingly psychopathic though civilised Man and Blanchett’s apparently vulnerable Woman embark on a kind of sexual – though not necessarily sexy – ritual. Sex here is a dangerous power game. And because it is never clear the degree to which Blanchett’s Woman is complicit, it is as if today’s gender politics is sitting in mute judgement in the wings.

Little is clear for much of the play’s uninterrupted 100 minutes or so. But the mystery sustained for most of the evening, is what exactly are the real relationship of these people. It’s clear they are following some pre-conceived plan, but only in the eye-wateringly explicit final scene do we realise the truth of their relationship. The acting deliberately modulates between stilted and naturalistic; between the artifice of a preconceived plan being “performed” and the real-life moments that encroach on it. Just about every theatrical convention is subverted. That , for me, is reason enough to admire the bravery of the work.

But, still, to my old friend, I can now say if you are are worried about the depiction of explicit sex and violence – a most reasonable reservation – I’d stay away.


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