Dorfman, National Theatre – until 2 March 2019
Cate Blanchett is clever casting for Martin Crimp’s new play When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other at the National Theatre because without her I very much doubt it would have sold out before it opened.
I’m putting my hand up and admit it was her casting that persuaded me to buy tickets, it certainly wasn’t the fact that the play is written by Crimp – the last of his I saw I tried to fall asleep to escape the boredom. But even the thrill of seeing the Oscar/Golden Globe/BAFTA winner on the stage couldn’t elevate what was a tedious two hours at the theatre.
Crimp has based the play on the 18th century novel Pamela by Samuel Richardson about a 15-year-old maid who successfully fends off the sexual advances of her master and is eventually ‘rewarded’ by him and marries her.
The story is retold over and over with Blanchett (Woman) and Stephane Dillane (Man) cross-dressing to alternate roles and everything is watched by two school girls, a young man and female guard.
Played out in a double garage, complete with car, they argue, fight, have sex, masturbate each other or get the onlookers to do it for them. They spout long monologues and battle for dominance. Despite committed performances by Blanchett and Dillane, there is something cold and mechanical to what is going on.
Blanchett delivers long speeches while being dressed or undressed or masturbated or screwed or bandaged up. But she is disconnected from what is going on, rarely acknowledging any of it. It makes her appear inhuman and only when she is applying makeup in the front seat of the car does she seem ‘real’.
For all the sex and violence, the only thing which shocks is when Jessica Gunning’s Guard is asked why she is so fat. It comes from nowhere and feels like an unnecessary narrative cul de sac to explore in this context.
Otherwise, I remained unsurprised and unmoved – by the time Blanchett grabs a strap on and Dillane assumes the position it just feels amusingly desperate.
Crimp has managed to take human relationships, gender politics and complex emotion and make it banal. Is he aware of the irony when he has the Man say: ‘You must be wondering what the hell is going on?’.
I saw at least half a dozen people leave during the performance although two people did give an enthusiastic standing ovation.
Pretentious and impotent
I’m glad I got to see Cate Blanchett on stage I just wish it hasn’t been in something as pretentious and impotent as this Martin Crimp play.
When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other is sold out but you aren’t missing anything.
It’s two hours without an interval (does Crimp avoid intervals to stop people not returning?) and I’m giving it ⭐️.
You might also like to read:
Review (something I did enjoy) – Cost of Living, Hampstead Theatre.
Some thoughts on Pinter and misogyny.
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