Review Roundup: Critics Weigh in on Cate Blanchett in WHEN WE HAVE SUFFICIENTLY TORTURED EACH OTHER
The National Theatre's When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other, a new play by Martin Crimp is now on stage. It is directed by Katie Mitchell, with a cast including Cate Blanchett, who makes her National Theatre debut alongside Stephen Dillane returning to the National Theatre for the first time since The Coast of Utopia in 2002.
Martin Crimp's new play breaks through the surface of contemporary debate to explore the messy, often violent nature of desire, and the fluid, complicated roles that men and women play.
Using Richardson's novel as a provocation, six characters act out a dangerous game of sexual domination and resistance.
Katie Mitchell returns to the National Theatre following a sold-out production of Cleansed in 2016, Katie said: "It's great to be working with Martin again on this powerful new text and to continue my special collaboration with Stephen Dillane. At the same time I'm delighted to welcome Cate Blanchett to the National, and look forward to developing a new working relationship with this extraordinary actor."
With set design by Vicki Mortimer, costume design by Sussie Juhlin-Wallén, and lighting design by James Farncombe. The composer & sound designer is Melanie Wilson, the songwriter is Roald van Oosten, the fight directors are Rachel Bown-Williams and Ruth Cooper-Brown, and the staff director is Lily McLeish.
Let's see what the critics have to say!
Michael Billington, The Guardian: Mitchell's production is sexually explicit, but I can only assume that anyone shocked by the play's arguments about the overthrow of oppressive masculinity and the malleability of gender must have spent the last decade in monastic seclusion.
Marianka Swain, BroadwayWorld: The piece as a whole certainly compares unfavourably with, say, Genet's The Maids (which Blanchett, Crimp and Mitchell have all done previously) or Ella Hickson's The Writer, both of which use not just words, but also theatrical form to blazing effect. In this production, the audience is rarely engaged enough to then feel challenged in our responses or behaviour.
Thomas Froy, London Theatre: And here's the catch. Just like the parked car in the garage, the play never travels. 12 role play scenes, separated by a light switch, cover much the same ground, over and again. Maybe there's a philosophical point about repetition being the only meaningful action in a socially constructed world. But this isn't emphasised very much, and the audience are left with something of an, well... an anti-climax.
Paul T. Davies, British Theatre: The arguments are interesting, and the Woman is definitely empowered. The programme notes are excellent, and perhaps this is a better discussion among friends rather than on stage. A year ago this venue staged Annie Baker's John, which ended up on many critics Best Play list. This won't happen here, and, even though it's January, its status as Worst Play is there to be challenged. Certainly, it's Most Disappointing. If you've got a ticket, don't expect "theatrical Viagra", but enjoy excellent acting. If you haven't got a ticket, some sites are selling them for £800, so if you're a rich sadist, go ahead and knock yourself out.
Sarah Crompton, What's On Stage: As for Blanchett, she puts her charisma and commitment entirely in the service of the play. You can see why it appealed. She gets to change voices, to play the master as well as the servant, the man as well as the woman. She acts submissive and dominant, cringing and powerful, beautiful and ugly. She is terrific but it isn't enough. Despite her best endeavours - and those of Jessica Gunning, who brings real aplomb to her scenes as Mrs Jewkes, the woman who is both Pamela's jailer and her admirer - the evening feels much longer than its two-hour running time.
Natasha Tripney, The Stage: Over the course of the two-hour, interval-less production, one of the onlookers, Jessica Gunning, takes on an increasingly active role. She takes on the guise of Mrs Jewkes, the complicit housekeeper in Richardson's novel, and, in the production's most potent moment, she sings a song, rather beautifully, before kissing Blanchett's Woman. However, she also has to endure a lot of distasteful commentary about her body, which never feels entirely justified.
Demetrios Matheou, Hollywood Reporter: But there's a disarming moment when Dillane appears to be drifting off; intended or otherwise, it's when the play itself begins to lose steam. Ironically, all the endless talk that Pamela so mocks ultimately becomes reductive, and tiresome, as do the frequent costume changes and playing with props, the bursts of violence and mannered perversion. By the time a scantily clad Blanchett brandishes a dildo, it's clear that Crimp is all out of ideas.
Holly Williams, Independent: Whatever is going on, the writing constantly intrigues, while also being surprisingly just quite fun. Snooping on this couple's very involved fantasy is a bit sexy, and a bit ghastly. But Blanchett fans are likely to be very satisfied indeed.
Christopher Hart/Patricia Nicol, The Times: Cate Blanchett live on stage, wearing black stockings and a strap-on dildo, giving her husband one up the bum... and it's still really tedious. That's how bad this new Martin Crimp play is. A set of 12 "variations" on Samuel Richardson's 18th-century novel Pamela, it supposedly explores modern desire, sexual attraction and gender relations. In fact, it does nothing but bore the pants off you.
Lloyd Evans, Spectator: The show's ending becomes a little earnest and predictable and the twist involving the shrink is weak. And I wasn't convinced that the songbook and the dance numbers had been properly integrated with the story. If anything, I wanted less music and more about Obi's troubled teenage years and his mother's early struggles. And I was ready to hear plenty more from his sharp-tongued sister Chichi. This is an imperfect show, but its centre-piece, the appallingly difficult dinner party, deserves to be committed to film.
Matt Trueman, Variety: 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.
Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out: It does feel like a bit of a missed opportunity, mind, and I can't help but wonder what might have been if Blanchett had decided to say 'screw it' and do 'Hamlet' or something. As it is, we have one of the greatest actors in the world using one of her very occasional stage outings to star in an oddball S&M play that doesn't quite work. But there's something to be said for that, I think.
John Nathan, Jewish Culture: Little is clear for much of the play's uninterrupted 100 minutes or so. But the mystery sustained for most of the evening, is what exactly are the real relationship of these people. It's clear they are following some pre-conceived plan, but only in the eye-wateringly explicit final scene do we realise the truth of their relationship. The acting deliberately modulates between stilted and naturalistic; between the artifice of a preconceived plan being "performed" and the real-life moments that encroach on it. Just about every theatrical convention is subverted. That , for me, is reason enough to admire the bravery of the work.