by Rachel Beaumont

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Frank entertainment: When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other at the NT

When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other
Dorfman Theatre
National Theatre
Gallery R10, £15
2 February 2019
NT page

When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other is very entertaining. What else it is I’m not sure. It’s no small thing to be sniffed at, being entertaining: to hold the attention for two and a half hours without a story even from the worst seat in the house is an achievement, and here a complex one with many creditors. I have certainly had worse two hours in the theatre. But why am I so litotic? The mild disappointment that lingers with me has its roots in the assumption that Martin Crimp and Katie Mitchell wanted to do more than entertain.

But perhaps they didn’t. So what entertains, then? Crimp’s wordplay is impressive and fun. Around his words the stagecraft is wound with incredible precision and cohesion; lighting from James Farncombe tailors exactly to Vicki Mortimer’s intricate set design, and Melanie Wilson’s frankly astonishing sound design is as finely wrought and exacting as the soundtrack of a Kubrick film. All feels like the product of a single vision and for that Mitchell must take credit, in having enabled so many artists to cleave so closely.

And then there’s the cast. I am completely starstruck by Cate Blanchett. Her voice makes my insides go cold. I could stare at her face all day, and have, I suppose, spent days doing that. Live she does not disappoint, as indeed she could not: her face is still her face and her voice is still her voice and with that comes the intensity and artistry that make her her. Given this, it’s impressive that Stephen Dillane is definitely also very good. He matches Blanchett for intensity and artistry; he too has a beautiful face, a beautiful voice.

Watching the two of them is a bit like watching ballet dancers, or aliens from another race, which is perhaps why the play never managed to make me think of anything other than itself. The graphic depictions of sex intensify this. What must it be like to be so beautiful and so uninhibited? I spent most of the play thinking this. What must it be like to be the young actor who snogs Cate Blanchett, the young actor who masturbates Cate Blanchett? Are their minds blowing? What training has made them all able to do what they are doing?

Mitchell sets the play as a game, I think true to the play of Crimp’s text; the presence of these master-race types on stage only further decreases any potential for jeopardy. When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other is essentially two hours of watching a couple who seem perfect for each other do things that it seems right for them to do, hurting others with a staginess that never even comes close to a breath of tarnish on their innate glamour. It’s very entertaining, and perhaps that’s all Crimp and Mitchell wanted. But with these ingredients, they should have wanted more.

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