What: When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other
Where: Dorfman Theatre, National Theatre, London
When: Saturday February 2, 2019
Full disclosure: I hadn’t even heard of ‘Pamela’, by Samuel Richardson, until after I had booked tickets for this play. The playwright is Martin Crimp, the director is Katie Mitchell and the leads are Cate Blanchett and Stephen Dillane.
A quick perusal of the Wikipedia entry on ‘Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded’ tells me that it was published in 1740 and is about a young woman who is manipulated by an older, powerful man. It also doesn’t entirely enlighten me about what I watched in the Dorfman Theatre yesterday.
Set in a suburban garage, it is a play entirely without a social context. It’s never clarified who the characters are, and how they actually relate to each other. It could all be a BDSM Scene, or they could be actors within a play, within a play, or it could be a man, standing in front of a woman, and subjugating her in a variety of ways.
What is interesting is that this is basically twelve retellings of the same scenario. It’s not always clear where one variation begins and another ends, although they’re marked with a light being turned on, and turned back off again, like a visual safe word. Blanchett and Dillane are remarkable, and both dressed variably in lingerie or a man’s suit or a blonde wig, depending on whether they are playing Man or Woman. Jessica Gunning, playing a character based on the housekeeper in the original novel, is excellent.
Some of the props and conceits are entirely impenetrable which is ironic, given the play’s fascination with penetration. The most banal and accessible dialogue is in the final scene, even as Blanchett is strapping on a dildo.
I suppose the play is intended to be shocking, and intended to be a commentary on gender roles. While it is intense at times, with occasionally amusing dialogue, it is probably just too inaccessible to be enjoyable.