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Were critics sufficiently tortured by Cate Blanchett's National Theatre debut?

Find out whether Katie Mitchell's production of Martin Crimp's new play was a hit with the critics

Jessica Gunning, Cate Blanchett and Stephen Dillane in When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other
(© Stephen Cummiskey)

Sarah Crompton, WhatsOnStage

★★

"Never has the distance between the glamour of movie star casting and the earnestness of the play she is appearing in seemed wider. Martin Crimp's text may require Cate Blanchett to stalk the stage in underwear, strap on a sex toy and simulate various sex acts; her co-star Stephen Dillane spends a lot of the night in a frock. Yet sex and violence have rarely seemed so dull."

"Crimp and Katie Mitchell, who directs with earnest precision, cover a lot of ground. From the first moment that Blanchett and Dillane clamber into the car, in blonde wigs and waitress uniforms, the nature of male and female encounters is under the microscope."

"There is a lot of interesting chat, but the trouble is that apart from occasional explosions of slightly baffling violence, it all unfolds at the same pace. Dillane has a great moment when he talks about going shopping for cherries and you suddenly sense the world outside the room, where order is breaking down, and where the divisions between rich and poor have become absolute. He is mesmeric."

"Blanchett puts her charisma and commitment entirely in the service of the play. You can see why it appealed. She is terrific but it isn't enough."



Michael Billington, The Guardian

★★★

"Martin Crimp's play – subtitled 12 Variations on Samuel Richardson's Pamela – proves to be a diagrammatic exploration of modern sexual mores shorn of any social context."

"It is left to the admirably uninhibited central performers, Cate Blanchett and Stephen Dillane, to literally put some flesh on a drily cerebral text. Richardson's 1740 novel shows a 15-year-old serving girl resisting a predatory master before finally marrying him."

"Under Katie Mitchell's agile production and Vicki Mortimer's design, the action is shifted to a modern garage, where Blanchett and Dillane – simply characterised as Woman and Man – enact a series of sadomasochistic power games."

"Fortunately, the two actors are highly watchable...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."



Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out

★★★

"It's pretty weird, even if it's actually one of the usually austere [Katie] Mitchell's more overtly fun shows."

"The biggest challenge is discerning whether or not it has an actual point to make. The messiness of gender, the complications of desire, the importance of the taboo, the performative nature of male and female roles, the tension between feminism and lust... these are all things at play here, but I'm not sure it ever says anything particularly penetrating about any of them."

" Cate Blanchett is scorchingly good when her character is bored, angry or a man: sometimes imperious and imposing, sometimes terrifying and ludicrous as she rants away in her power drunk male guise."

"Dillane is actually better, though: he can do the pompous egoistical sadist thing, but there's always an air of desperate weakness there, and he frequently drops into a fascinating, morose minor key that Blanchett never really comes close to replicating."

Stephen Dillane and Cate Blanchett in When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other
© Stephen Cummiskey



Holly Williams, The Independent

★★★★

"Cate Blanchett is brilliant: one of those simply magnetic performers, as poised as she is potent. It's a chilly sort of play – all about surfaces, not much about the heart – but she sure makes those surfaces gleam. Every modulation, every snap between different poses or characters, is clearly defined. Stephen Dillane matches her: urbane, deceptively light, at times absurdly patronising, he sails through the material. Together, they are also very funny. "

"It's refreshing to see something about BDSM where such desires aren't explained away as being caused by trauma, particularly in the woman's case. But it's also a weakness – if this is all just a game, the stakes are somewhat low. When We Have Sufficiently… has an ominous atmosphere throughout, as is typical of Katie Mitchell, but if it's all just good consensual fun, what does the play really have to say? "

"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. "



Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard

★★

"The action takes place in a garage, and the set is dominated by a six-year-old Audi which is as much of a sexual accessory as the medium-size strap-on cock that Cate Blanchett briefly sports. She and the sardonic Stephen Dillane, as characters simply called Woman and Man, trade thoughts about inequality and engage in various forms of role play. This involves switching identities, and there's a lot of fiddly business with stockings, suspenders, wigs and maids' outfits, as if they're stuck in a retro porn film."

"Crimp's storytelling is elusive without being interestingly slippery, and it never feels as if much is at stake for the characters. Katie Mitchell's production is meticulously detailed, but stilted and far from erotic. The approach is unflinching, yet despite the leads' magnetism this is a pretty torpid two hours."



Ann Treneman, The Times

"Basically, this is a tease around the themes of sex and domination acted out in hackneyed ways. For instance, the main roles, known simply as Man and Woman, both start out dressed as French maids. Sigh."

"No scene is complete until someone is smeared with blood and/or shaving cream. Mitchell keeps upping the ante until, by the end, Blanchett sports a strap-on dildo."

"I'm worried that I am making this sound far more interesting than it actually was...But most of this play is like listening to two drunk people at a bus stop shout at each other about who does most of the washing up."

"The acting is superb, particularly from Blanchett, and the garage set by Vicki Mortimer is wonderfully exact. But otherwise this is rubbish."

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