‘There’s something to enjoy in its batshit relentlessness’: When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other – National Theatre

In London theatre, Opinion, Plays, Reviews, Sticky by Ian FosterLeave a Comment

Dorfman, National Theatre – until 2 March 2019

It is bracingly refreshing to see the kind of artistic decisions that drive Cate Blanchett’s theatrical career, so often complex, contemporary takes on classic work which show a performer never content to rest on her laurels. Which leads us to her National Theatre debut in When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other – 12 Variations on Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, written and directed respectively by noted iconoclasts Martin Crimp and Katie Mitchell.

And as such, it certainly is something of a challenge. Played for its two hours without interval, Blanchett and co-star Stephen Dillane act out a series of psychosexual, sado-masochistic role-playing games and that’s about it. There’s strap-ons and shaving foam, backseat shenanigans and boxes of cherries, and an untold amount of portentous chat which sometimes, sometimes, sears through to the soul.

That’s because Blanchett and Dillane really are top-level actors and both have several moments of inspired work, which it feels an absolute privilege to witness in the intimacy of the Dorfman (the payoff for the ballot, I suppose). And as they, and Crimp and Mitchell, tackle the intersection of gender and power in the fluid flux of contemporary society, peeling back what the roles we want to play say about us, those moments of insight are powerful, particularly in some effective monologues.

Vicki Mortimer’s design re-creates a suburban garage to an exceptional degree, Melanie Wilson’s sound design casts a bewitching spell, and the supporting company of four onlookers are a nigglingly intriguing presence which is never quite explained, Jessica Gunning’s increasing role particularly pleasing. Over the two hours though, it’s hard not to want a touch more tonal variety as each new iteration of the game leaves us pretty close to where we were originally. But once you’ve recalibrated your expectations to the way in which the team here are working, there’s something to enjoy in its batshit relentlessness.

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Ian Foster
Since 2003, Ian Foster has been writing reviews of plays, sometimes with a critical element, on his blog Ought to Be Clowns, which has been listed as one of the UK's Top Ten Theatre Blogs by Lastminute.com, Vuelio and Superbreak. He averages more than 350+ shows a year. He says: "Call me a reviewer, a critic or a blogger, and you will apparently put someone or other's nose out of joint! So take it or leave it, essentially this is my theatrical diary, recording everything I go to see at the theatre in London and beyond, and venturing a little into the worlds of music and film/TV where theatrical connections can be made."
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Ian Foster on FacebookIan Foster on RssIan Foster on Twitter
Ian Foster
Since 2003, Ian Foster has been writing reviews of plays, sometimes with a critical element, on his blog Ought to Be Clowns, which has been listed as one of the UK's Top Ten Theatre Blogs by Lastminute.com, Vuelio and Superbreak. He averages more than 350+ shows a year. He says: "Call me a reviewer, a critic or a blogger, and you will apparently put someone or other's nose out of joint! So take it or leave it, essentially this is my theatrical diary, recording everything I go to see at the theatre in London and beyond, and venturing a little into the worlds of music and film/TV where theatrical connections can be made."

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