Review – Cate Blanchett in When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other, Dorfman Theatre

Tuesday 22 January 2019

Oh my word. You’d think by now we would know better.

Did we not see the clue in the pretentiously wordy title, When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other? Did we not hear the alarm bells in the play’s director “a director who polarises audiences like no other” Katie Mitchell? But no, we did not listen to common sense. We were stupidly sucked in by the starry casting of actress (she’s accepted Best Supporting Actress and Best Actress Academy Awards so we think we can still call her an actress) Cate Blanchett. 

We entered the ballot to get tickets. Despite paying the National for advanced booking privileges we still had to enter a frigging ballot! This won us the right to attempt to buy tickets. Many were unsuccessful. They will never know how lucky they were. Unless they read on.

In the unlikely event that you have tickets then read no further. We will also seek to give those who are thinking of queuing for tickets from 3am in the morning (yes, we know someone who did this!) a full night’s sleep.

Newspapers got a little aroused last week when an elderly lady in the audience passed out during the first preview. Apparently as a reaction to the so called extreme scenes of sex and violence. We don’t believe that for a second. We believe it’s the least embarrassing way of getting removed from a play that runs at 2 hours without an interval. They are not fainting now. Some just got up and left.

This is Martin Crimp’s twelve variations of Samuel Richardson‘s 1740 novel Pamela. Here it is reimagined in a double garage complete with a real Audi (convincingly garagey design from Vicki Mortimer) where Woman (Blanchett) and Man (Stephen Dillane) indulge in a series of tedious role-playing sex games aided and abetted by a group of voyeurs, Girl 1 (Emma Hindle) and Girl 2 (Babirye Bukilwa) a young man called Ross (Craig Miller) who may or may not have burnt a young family to death and Mrs Jewkes (Jessica Gunning) who is very fat.

Now before you get all excited and uppity about mentioning her size, it is a significant plot point, that is if we may flatter the piece by saying it has something that resembles a plot. The many references to her size are the only things that are shocking about the play. Gunning is supremely watchable, her scenes are the only good best moments of the evening.

Man and Woman use microphones to communicate sometimes and switch roles frequently. Blanchett and Dillane are both rather good but affect a slightly theatrical, artificial style that quickly begins to pall. Their heavy lifting involves Dillane dressing in women’s underwear and blonde wig while Blanchett switches between wearing the wig and Ann Summery underwear and a man’s suit. Among the indignities she is called upon to perform are crawling and begging for cherries, pretending to masturbate (as a man), taking over from one of the girl’s in a half-hearted hand job for Dillane, having her forehead carved with a scalpel, having her face shaved, crawling over the top of the car and sliding down the bonnet, being dressed up in a meringue wedding gown and putting on a strap on dildo to take Dillane up the rear view mirror.

This gave us a real issue to ponder. Does a strap on constitute as a prop or a costume? Discuss.

If any of this sounds like your sort of thing, believe us it’s all about as erotic as Brexit negotiations and appears to drag on longer. If you’re expecting some sort of coup de théâtre at the end, or even the up and over garage doors to swing open then think again.

It wasn’t just us. We have never seen so many people conspicuously checking their watches throughout. To say the applause is muted at the end is to flatter the applause hugely. Some refused to clap at all.

No doubt there will be those who will say they found the gender politics fascinating and Me Tooingly timely. If, as an audience, we are the voyeurs as well, then we found it had a childish need to shock. ‘I’d rather be raped than bored.’ breathes Cate. You get the general idea. Who knew S & M could be so dreary? It may serve to put people off it for life.

Our highlight of the evening was seeing Stanley Tucci in the little boy’s room both before and after the show. We also spotted him “going back”, presumably to convene with Cate. He’s an actor. He’ll be able to pretend he liked it.

If our rating seems a little harsh it’s because this sort of thing really shouldn’t be encouraged. Yes, we had been sufficiently tortured thank you very much.

The audience really should be given a safe word. “Enough”.

19 Responses to “Review – Cate Blanchett in When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other, Dorfman Theatre”

  1. Lord Andrew Lloyd-Brexit Says:

    It sounds absolutely mahvellous. Is Olivia Colman in it?

  2. Chris Voisey Says:

    So Stanley Tucci… a grower or a shower? I put in for the lottery, thank fuck I didn’t win…

    I saw Cate Blanchett in PLENTY… she wasn’t all that.

    Katie Mitchell AND Martin Crimp. Yeesh…

  3. webcowgirl Says:

    Are you really still going to see stuff by Katie Mitchell? I have learned my lesson! She could bring David Bowie back from the dead and I’d rather give myself a pedicure, at home, in the dark.

  4. mike jones Says:

    I’m voting for prop.

  5. Martin Says:

    Aside from the omission of the hyphen in “strap-on”, the review is spot-on.

    Indeed, a man telling a fat woman played by a fat actress that she’s too fat because she eats too much, is the only shocking moment of the night, and did rouse me briefly from my stupor.

    Don’t forget the bare feet! (What with Summer and Smoke too, has Brexit caused a premature shortage of footwear?)

    And special mention must go to the person — possibly Ms Mitchell — sat in the far left seat of Pit row A, who rather inconsiderately sat with a script on her lap and a light on it throughout. From my seat in the middle of the side row, she was directly in my line of sight. I’m sure if I had disturbed the audience, or God forbid, the cast, with the much dimmer light from a mobile, I would have been given short shrift. Clearly, this matters not when you are as important as a “Creative”.

    • Phil (a west end whinger) Says:

      We had a debate about the strap on.. checked and it seemed to be generally without the hyphen. Even went to the trouble of visiting the Ann Summer website (the things we do for research).

      Had the same problem with Sir Trevor of Nunn brandishing a light up pen at the Menier once.

      BTW it should be seated or sitting “in the far left seat of Pit row A, ” not “sat”. Unless you’re on Coronation Street or the latest generation of BBC journalists.

  6. Martin Says:

    I’m half up t’north, so more Crossroads motel!

    Chambers has “sat” as a past participle of “to sit” (as well as past tense) so would seem to be technically correct to use this rather than the present participle. Googling shows some people are passionately anti though. Never realised!

    A light-up pen might actually have been an improvement. The note-taker last Friday had a lamp atop an antenna bolted to her seat I think.

    The gold standard of audience consideration is encountered on our annual pilgrimage to the Stephen Joseph in Scarborough. Mr Ayckbourn is often to be seen in a booth fronted with darkened glass where he can take notes without disturbing anyone other than the lighting operator; latecomers are admitted without delay, without fuss and without anyone noticing to a designated row in the rear of one corner. Always a pleasure to see a show here.

    • Phil (a west end whinger) Says:

      We think Ms Mitchell was, ahem, sitting on an aisle seat at the back of the stalls last night. Laptop in her lap and presumably glowing nicely.
      Speaking of lighting. Did you find those flashing coloured lights on stage annoying?

      • MKB Says:

        Weren’t they just? What were they? A karaoke machine?

        Incidentally, anyone reading this who wants to see something actually worthwhile, and can stomach a trip outside the M25, I’d recommend “Our Lady of Kibeho” that we saw tonight at the Royal, Northampton. Even as a cynical atheist, I was moved. Superb performances and staging. It’s over by 22:20 and there are still two trains left back to London.

      • Karen Mount Says:

        When I went the aromatic Miss Mitchell came and sat right by me large apple laptop shining and glowing and tap tapping away for the whole thing, did not let up once. She was writing something of a novel. My whole row was disturbed and kept getting me to ask her to stop. When I did this she kind of smirked and then studiously ignored me. It got so bad that I got manager to come and ask her to stop, he tried, but was terrified and withdrew at a stony Medusa glance. It was very annoying but actually gave a sense of drama to the evening which is after all what I’d come for and was otherwise missing. The boredom was interminable and I was relieved that the rest of the row and section of the audience (we all convened to discuss her behaviour afterwards) were equally dismayed by what they had had to endure. On the underground we were still discussing just how very bad and tedious this had been and we heard other people talking about it in the carriage. Anybody sitting near to a very rude and noisy and brightly shining Miss Mitchell should apply to get their money back. We did and they gave it without question. So get onto it all you preview goers. And yes that curious light shining from the audience at the side of the stage – what was that about, prompters in the wings please. How can the audience be asked to turn off their mobiles when the ‘so called creatives’ don’t give a damn. Also Mr National Theatre don’t sell expensive tickets and then insult the audience by allowing directors to take the p.

  7. Nick Says:

    Couldn’t have put it better myself. Jessica’s line about the bath water actually made me laugh. They really are sufficiently torturing the audience.

  8. Michael LL Says:

    Thank you for enduring it one behalf of those of us who will now stop fretting at not getting a ticket

  9. Steve Says:

    Exactly what I thought but was not articulate enough to say. It was boring as hell, and absolutely vile. I couldn’t wait for the end. I wish I had had the sense to pretend to faint too (I was there that night).

  10. Esmeralda Johnstone Says:

    By the end of the play I had decided that my old garage door had to go ,and that I was going to have an electric one fitted…..

  11. Andy Humm Says:

    Why does the National Theatre insist on torturing people with anything by Ms Mitchell. She LIVES to be disdained.

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