Life

“When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other is full of charisma, thanks to Cate Blanchett”

Posted by
Hannah Keegan
Published

When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other is a play with some hype…

There were reports of people fainting in their seats at the preview of When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other, a new play by Martin Crimp starring Oscar winner Cate Blanchett and Game of Thrones Stephen Dillane. It’s directed by Katie Mitchell, whose unsettling, feminist reworkings of classic texts has previously been thought too weird for UK audiences. Tickets were released by ballot (blame that on Blanchett) and on the night I attended the audience included Uma Thurman and Ben Whishaw. This, readers, is a play with some hype.

It’s based on the 1740 novel Pamela by Samuel Richardson, in which a 15-year-old housemaid is abducted and eventually forced to marry her captor. The book explores Stockholm syndrome, complicity and society’s obsession with little girls. Here, however, it serves as a springboard for a couple’s sadomasochistic role play. Blanchett swings between a coquettish teenager and a woman bored with the act. Dillane, meanwhile, ricochets between a wicked master and hopeless loser. 

It’s based on the 1740 novel Pamela by Samuel Richardson, in which a 15-year-old housemaid is abducted and eventually forced to marry her captor

Referred to simply as Woman and Man, we never find out the identity of either Blanchett or Dillane’s characters. They exist without context because it seems we’re supposed to focus on what they want rather than who they are. But until you give up trying figure it all out, you’ll be looking for glimmers of the couple behind the game.

It’s not too hard to understand why it made people pass out. In the first fifteen minutes, Blanchett announces “I’d rather be raped than bored”, hands Dillane a knife to slash her forehead (which he does) and goads him (“you’ve no more idea how to hurt me than you have how to give me pleasure!). She also cries and cries and cries. He, on the other hand, is manipulative and at times terrifying, giving long, furious monologues about his wealth and power. But Dillane’s skillful delivery manages to balance the ferocity of an egomaniac with a hint of the vulnerability beneath the monster. Blanchett, too, is full of charisma and worth the ticket price alone. 

You may also like

Beautiful Boy is a tale of addiction, love and recovery

Its shortcoming, though, lies in its ambition to take on many ideas without thoroughly examining any of them. There’s gender play: Blanchett becomes a man whenever she slips into Dillane’s grey suit, while Dillane dons a maid’s outfit when he wants to play the part of Pamela. Both are wearing lingerie and suspenders under their clothes. Then, there’s capitalism as the root of it all: the working class guy Dillane pays to play the part of a young stud ends up soaked in blood and the biggest victim of the whole fiasco.

And there’s also the idea of femininity being a performance that requires pain. “Am I not eating enough?” Blanchett cries when Man offers her a cherry, “is it he thinks that because I’m a woman I’m starving myself? Or abusing my body in some other way? What shall we say? Cutting it?” In another scene that is particularly uncomfortable to watch, Dillane asks Mrs. Jewkes (Jessica Gunning), a woman who he’s presumably paid to play the part of a lesbian guard in his role play, why she is so fat, telling the audience it’s because she’s poor. Scenes like this feel gratuitously cruel without arriving at any interesting point. 

You may also like

Colette is a pacey period drama with thoroughly modern themes

The curtain drops just as Blanchett has fastened a strap on around her hips and Dillane is on all fours. The abrupt end leaves you feeling as though the torture and humiliation will simply go on without anyone there to watch it, such is human nature – and maybe that’s the point.

Images: National Theatre 

Topics

Share this article

Author

Hannah Keegan

Hannah Keegan is the features writer at Stylist magazine.

Recommended by Hannah Keegan

People

Cate Blanchett defends Cannes Film Festival’s lack of female directors

“There are several women in competition, and they’re not there because of their gender.”

Posted by
Susan Devaney
Published
People

Cate Blanchett explains why she “stayed silent” over Woody Allen abuse allegations

“It’s a very painful and complicated situation…”

Posted by
Kayleigh Dray
Published
People

Cate Blanchett talks about feeling socially awkward

"I was sweating bullets"

Posted by
Harriet Hall
Published