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.
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
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.
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