Perhaps the most in-demand show in theatres right now, Martin Crimp and Katie Mitchell’s latest collaboration literally has people fainting in the aisles (Evening Standard). This Cate Blanchett starring, gender deconstructing, BDSM filled 120-minute role play has audience shivering with anticipation.
When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other is structured by twelve scenes from Richardson’s 1740 novel, Pamela. With a middle-aged couple (married) enacting 12 variations on a script, interpreted as BDSM roleplay, assisted by three teenagers (their children) we are already on ‘120 Days of Sodom’ territory.
‘Let’s face it, Pamela: you’re a child – and I’m a man.’ ‘My name’s not Pamela’. This is the tone of the rest of the 2 hours. Statement – rejection. ‘Man’ (Stephen Dillane) and ‘Woman’ (Cate Blanchett) repeat their verbal violence back and forth, rich with contradiction and objection. And that’s pretty much as far as it goes. Perhaps in light of the play’s sexual topic, straightforward satisfaction is largely withheld.
Blanchett’s stage presence is undeniable, and she is more fluid in her variations between different genders, as Dillane’s are more stereotypes than real portrayals. But again, it’s not clear whether it’s Dillane, or Man, or Man as Pamela, or Man as Blanchett. Crimp’s script is nothing if not confusing.
The set is a meticulously constructed, accurate to life, modern day garage (designed by Vicki Mortimer), in which Man and Woman, with the assistance of Girl 1 and 2, switch roles between Master and Pamela, sometimes in grey suits, sometimes in French maid outfits, sometimes in stockings and lingerie. They seem to be following a script, and Dillane’s delivery is fantastically half-hearted, suggestive of a slightly pathetic attempt to turn Blanchett on. But she is having none of it, telling him “You’ve no more idea how to hurt me than turn me on”. The shoe is very much on the other foot, or is it the trousers? No gender norms are givens here.
The main thrust (pun intended) of the play seems to be that domination depends on submission. Be that in the bedroom, the office or the world at large, men are dependent on women to ‘perform’ their feminine role in order for men to stay as ‘men’. This seems to apply to structures beyond behaviour: Crimp seems to ask whose narrative we are listening to here. Richardson presents his novel as the writings on Pamela, suggesting that the work could be taken as a self-controlled account of feminine sexuality. Equally, Dillane and Blanchett’s relationship never lets on who is really in control, in life or in performance.
And here’s the catch. Just like the parked car in the garage, the play never travels. 12 role play scenes, separated by a light switch, cover much the same ground, over and again. Maybe there’s a philosophical point about repetition being the only meaningful action in a socially constructed world. But this isn’t emphasised very much, and the audience are left with something of an, well… an anti-climax.
Review by Thomas Froy
‘Go on then: lock the doors and see what happens. Show me how much power you really have.’
This new play breaks through the surface of contemporary debate to explore the messy, often violent nature of desire and the fluid, complicated roles that men and women play.
Using Samuel Richardson’s novel, Pamela, as a provocation, six characters act out a dangerous game of sexual domination and resistance.
The production reunites Martin Crimp (Attempts on her Life, In the Republic of Happiness) and director Katie Mitchell (Waves, Cleansed). Cate Blanchett makes her National Theatre debut alongside Stephen Dillane, who returns to the National Theatre for the first time since The Coast of Utopia in 2002.
Cate Blanchett, Babirye Bukilwa, Stephen Dillane, Jessica Gunning, Emma Hindle, Craig Miller.
Director – Katie Mitchell
Set Designer – Vicki Mortimer
Costume Designer – Sussie Juhlin-Wallén
Lighting Designer – James Farncombe
Composer and Sound Designer – Melanie Wilson
Songwriter – Roald van Oosten
Fight Director – Rachel Bown-Williams of RC-ANNIE Ltd
Fight Director – Ruth Cooper-Brown of RC-ANNIE Ltd
Staff Director – Lily McLeish
When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other
12 Variations on Samuel Richardson’s Pamela
a new play by Martin Crimp
Running Time: Approx. 2hr without an interval.