Cate Blanchett Plumbs The Depths Of Sexual Desire In When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other At National Theatre

When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other, Dorfman, National Theatre ★★★☆☆

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Cate Blanchett Plumbs The Depths Of Sexual Desire In When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other At National Theatre When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other, Dorfman, National Theatre 3
Image: Stephen Cummiskey

Martin Crimp’s wordy new play is subtitled ‘12 Variations on Samuel Richardson’s Pamela’. It’s inspired by the notorious 18th century novel about the titular 15 year old maid who resists her wealthy master’s advances until he proposes marriage. Reinvented for modern times, two protagonists archetypally named Woman and Man engage in erotic power games in 12 scenes that play like a psycho-sexual experiment.

With its alternate domination/submission, role-playing, cross-dressing and gender-swapping, the play explores shifting relations between men and women. Costumes are frequently changed, including maid’s outfits and blonde wigs, with characters often stripping down to their underwear as the play gets to the nitty-gritty of sexual desire. This is gender as performance.

Image: Stephen Cummiskey

Though far from torturous, this unflinching show at times certainly makes uncomfortable viewing. It’s a challenging, provocative, even baffling piece with moments of awkward humour amidst the in-yer-face sex and violence. Running at two hours without an interval you may sometimes feel — like the characters — that you would like to escape, but it’s a strangely compelling experience.

Avant-garde director Katie Mitchell is in her element, though the continuous use of unsettling background electronic music becomes annoying. Vicki Mortimer’s design of a claustrophobic basement garage complete with forensic strip lighting and an Audi locks the characters in.

Image: Stephen Cummiskey

The cast of six is led by Cate Blanchett — a big-screen star who’s also an accomplished stage actor — giving a courageous, committed performance as the formidably feisty Woman and the equally excellent Stephen Dillane as the patriarchal Man who overestimates his power.

When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other, Dorfman, National Theatre, Upper Ground, SE1 9PX. Tickets £15/£18, until 2 March 2019.

Last Updated 24 January 2019