×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

London Theater Review: Cate Blanchett in ‘When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other’

Cate Blanchett's makes a risky return to London theater in an intricate sexual role-play that asks big questions of consent.

With:
Cate Blanchett, Babirye Bukilwa, Stephen Dillane, Jessica Gunning, Emma Hindle, Craig Miller.

2 hours

“I’m perfectly capable of making a sandwich,” scolds Cate Blanchett as she inches a sizeable strap-on inside her prostrate husband. It is an unexpected sight, but a stark piece of power play in an evening that’s full of them. Director Katie Mitchell serves up scenes from a marriage: two unbroken hours of sexual sadomasochistic role-play in a suburban garage where it’s never quite clear who’s in control — man or woman, husband or wife, sub or dom. It’s a clinical examination of the slippery, shifting nature of consent, and in particular, what it might mean to say “I do.”

When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other” is a complex watch — a play that exists, almost entirely, in its subtext. As Blanchett and Stephen Dillane work their way through a series of explicit, violent sexual fantasies, consent is never simply spoken out loud. It’s implicit and, arguably, inconstant; communicated with a look, a smile, a gesture, even a fee. It is never absolute, nor black and white, but negotiated moment by moment. The game is to spot the ways its shifts as words and deeds slip out of sync.

For while Martin Crimp’s text is a loose, abstract adaptation of Samuel Richardson’s 1740 novel “Pamela” — a puzzle of a play that constantly rearranges itself. Mitchell treats it as a self-penned script in a couple’s slip-sliding sexual roleplay: Man and Woman, a middle-aged (married?) couple, act out a literary fantasy in a chilly garage.

In Richardson’s novel, a salacious bestseller, a teenage housemaid willingly marries her abusive employer, Mr B. Pamela brushes off his advances, evades an attempted rape, then accepts his proposal as his consenting wife. Mitchell’s modern scenario mirrors those blurred lines, as Blanchett and Dillane cycle through a series of BDSM scenarios including rape fantasies and torture fetish play. They take turns taking charge, swapping clothes as they switch between master and maid, masc to femme, as each takes turns to play Pamela. Everything’s performative – gender, violence, power, consent – and real at the same time.

Mitchell complicates every moment, turning each act into a question of consent. Sneaking in, mouths taped shut like hostages, the couple set up a karaoke machine and start to play. Is it their property? Are they trespassing or, even, under duress? When Dillane slices a scalpel across his partner’s forehead, she clutches his hip with a tender embrace that’s gently affirmative. Blanchet slams him down in a chair and mimes masturbating aggressively into his face. “Hit me,” she orders. “I’d rather be raped than bored.”

All this is scripted, scenes written on laptops and iPhones, but we never know who has ultimate authorship or control. Is this her fantasy or his, a sub or a dom’s? Something more mutual, or even imposed on them both? At what point do they stray of script or veer out of control, beyond established consent? Blanchett and Dillane give such precisely calibrated performances that a half smile can shift one’s sense of the entire situation. He swabs her down, gently, after slicing her open. She ushers him, silently, to force himself upon her. Both are as enthralling as they are inscrutable.

And what of the four youngsters hanging around on the edges, each handed a wodge of cash to play a supporting role? Two teenage girls dressed as pigtailed schoolgirls swap uneasy glances, and a stripped young buck steps in to offer his, ahem, services and take a brutal beating. What are the terms of their employment — or their exploitation? As in “The Maids” and “La Maladie de la Mort,” Mitchell’s fascinated by the interplay of capital and desire, sex and labor.

All voyeurism is a tedious thrill – or thrilling tedium. This is no different: at once startling and banal. The action itself is slow and stuttering, but the scenario’s riveting — laced with subtext, laden with history and loaded with threat. We know nothing of who these people are, save for the executive car and wine fridge they keep in their garage, but we’re privy to the intimacies of their sex lives. It’s a thrillingly pregnant scenario too. How on earth did this marriage, if indeed that’s what it is, come to this? Everything’s ripe with ritual and teeming with threat, and you’re braced for the moment where passions spill over, tempers spin out of control and someone ends up seriously hurt. This mix of the mundane and the macabre, tedium and knife-edge tension, takes exquisite skill.

Together, Mitchell and Crimp complicate the power dynamics, weaving a web of gender relations, seniority, authorship and financial clout. Brandishing a sandwich in one hand and a strap-on in the other, “When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other” begs the most slippery questions of consent.

Popular on Variety

London Theater Review: Cate Blanchett in 'When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other'

Dorfman, National Theatre, London; 450 seats; £54 ($70) top. Opened, reviewed Jan. 23, 2019. Running time: 2 HOURS.

Production: A National Theatre production of a play in one act by Martin Crimp.

Creative: Directed by Katie Mitchell; Design, Vicki Mortimer; Costume, Sussie Juhlin-Wallen; lighting, James Farncombe; sound and composition, Melanie Wilson; fight directors, Rachel Bown-Williams and Ruth Cooper-Brown.

Cast: Cate Blanchett, Babirye Bukilwa, Stephen Dillane, Jessica Gunning, Emma Hindle, Craig Miller.

More Legit

  • David-Alan-Grier-Blair-Underwood

    David Alan Grier and Blair Underwood to Star in 'A Soldier's Play' on Broadway

    David Alan Grier and Blair Underwood will star in a Broadway production of Pulitzer-Prize winning drama “A Soldier’s Play.” The play, written by Charles Fuller, is set in 1944 and follows a murder mystery centered around the death of black Sergeant Vernon C. Waters (played by Grier) who is found on a Louisiana army base. [...]

  • The Inheritance review

    'The Inheritance' Announces Broadway Cast

    After an Olivier-winning run in London, “The Inheritance” is gearing up for its Broadway debut. The two-part epic has set the cast for its transfer from the West End to the Great White Way. John Benjamin Hickey, Paul Hilton, Samuel H. Levine, Andrew Burnap and Kyle Soller are among the cast members reprising their roles [...]

  • Patrick Page, Amber Grey, Eva Noblezada,

    'Hadestown' Announces 2020 National Tour

    ‘Hadestown’, the eight-time Tony award winning Broadway musical, is set for a national tour in 2020. The show will stop in more than 30 cities including Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New Orleans, and more. The musical is a stage adaptation of the Greek myths of Orpheus and Eurydice and King Hades and his wife [...]

  • Jake Gyllenhaal

    Listen: Why Jake Gyllenhaal Is His 'Best Self' in the Theater

    Looking for the best possible version of Jake Gyllenhaal? You’ll find it onstage, according to the actor himself. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “I am my best self when I’m working in the theater,” Gyllenhaal said on the latest episode Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast, on which he appeared with Carrie Cracknell, the director of [...]

  • Photo: Jeremy Daniel

    'The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical' Gets Broadway Run

    “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” is Broadway bound. The musical adaptation of the franchise about a teenager who discovers he’s the son of Poseidon hits the Great White Way on Sept. 20 ahead of an Oct. 16 opening night. It comes on the heels of an extensive, nationwide tour that took the show [...]

  • Tom Sturridge Jake Gyllenhaal

    Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge Celebrate 'Sea Wall/A Life' With Star-Studded Opening Night

    A star-studded audience looked on as Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge returned to the stage for their double monologue performance in “Sea Wall/A Life.” Theater-goers and celebs including Anne Hathaway, Tom Hiddleston and John Mulaney gathered in Manhattan’s Hudson Theatre for opening night, celebrating a show tackling grief, birth and death through the eyes of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content