When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other
Martin Crimp's new play, which had it's world premiere on the National Theatre's Dorfman stage last month, is billed as a shocking and explosive exploration of sex, desire and violence. Add to this heady mix the debut of Australian theatre and film star Cate Blanchett, and the run on the box office was guaranteed. So much so, that the opportunity to buy tickets had to be won in a ballot. Disappointing then, that star status and the promise of provocative writing does not translate into anything more than a baffling and ultimately frustrating spectacle on stage. Despite all the press hype (a woman is supposed to have fainted during previews, although I suspect she may have nodded off) it delivers a boredom blow.
Based on scandalous 1740 novel 'Pamela' by Samuel Richardson, the characters in this story act out a supposedly dangerous game of sexual domination and resistance. The fluid and complicated roles that men and women play in matters of sex and desire are imagined here with interchangeable central performances between 'Man' (Stephen Dillane) and 'Woman' (Cate Blanchett). Both deliver the controlled performances you'd expect from actors of such stature, but it's never enough to make you care. A line like 'I'd rather be raped than bored' is shocking. Yet somehow, within the context of this bemusing play, directed by Katie Mitchell, it barely caused a ripple. Maybe that was the point. If it was, it didn't make for great theatre.
Housekeeper figure Mrs Jewkes (Jessica Gunning), who develops an obsessive interest in Pamela/Woman, steals every scene she speaks in. Her diversions into some of the banalities of life and her fatness provide rare moments of interest and clarity. I'm not averse to experimental theatre but there's ultimately a contract with the audience to tell a story which engages. Surely there's a way of exploring the complexities of human desire, sexuality, power, domination and class in a coherent narrative. This wasn't it and judging by the nodding heads, shuffling and surreptitious watch-glancing in the audience, I wasn't on my own in thinking so. Sufficiently torturous.
'When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other' is playing at the National Theatre until Saturday 2nd March 2019.