When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other

Review - Cate Blanchett in When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other at the National Theatre

Mark Shenton
Mark Shenton

This is the single most 'exclusive' theatre event since the Tom Hiddleston Hamlet at RADA in 2017: demand for tickets was anticipated to be so high that prospective theatregoers had to likewise enter a heavily over-subscribed lottery for the chance to actually buy them.

But here's the good news for those who didn't succeed in getting them: they were the lucky ones. It's just torture, on both sides of the footlights. (But the actors, I assume, knew what they were getting themselves into having read the script first, so only have themselves to blame).

The audience, of course, was lured primarily by the prospect of the return to the London stage of contemporary film and stage goddess Cate Blanchett, not seen here since 2012 in Big and Small at the Barbican.

"I'd rather be raped than bored," says Woman, the character she is playing in Martin Crimp's contemporary re-write of an 18th-century epistolary novel by Samuel Richardson. Even though I was comprehensively bored watching this tortuous play, I'd beg to differ. And I'm sure most people would agree.

There's hardly a more boring thing on the planet than watching couples play out their flailing sex lives onstage: this is the worst play of the sub-genre since Venus in Fur was staged at the Haymarket in 2017.

Somehow this couple has a thing for doing this in their garage, much of it inside the Audi parked inside it. This doesn't always make for easy sightlines (I noticed spectators sitting on the side seating of the Dorfman straining to see), but also doesn't make for comfort and space for them, either. And the challenge of hearing them inside a closed car is addressed by having them hold and speak into hand-mics. It makes a change from hand jobs, though there are copious amounts of those, too, for both participants.

They are attended by four 'voyeurs', who are mostly passive observers to what they're up to - but a couple become active participants, too, so I wondered whether the garage had turned into a dogging site.

In an earlier age, a male heterosexual newspaper critic might have been tempted to dub Blanchett's appearance in white stockings and black suspenders pure theatrical Viagra, but today such sexual objectification would be a taboo, even if the play itself riffs on those themes. As a male gay critic myself, even those pleasures are denied me. But I do venerate Blanchett - one of the finest actors alive today - so it pains me to see her talents squandered in this way.

Similarly wasted (and frequently abased) is Stephen Dillane as Man, thrust into a cat and mouse game of control and desire with her.

What a tedious waste of time it is.

When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other is at the National Theatre until 2nd February. 

Photo credit: Stephen Cummiskey

Originally published on

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