When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other is brutal, unsparing and made an audience member faint. How brilliant

If you love theatre and want to read a measured review of a play that you can go and see, stop right here. The play that I am talking about, Martin Crimp’s When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other, which I feel could be the title of much of what I have sat through in the theatre, is one you are unlikely to see either. It is at the National Theatre and is completely sold out. Tickets could only be obtained by public ballot. It stars Cate Blanchett, who is of course bloody wonderful, and is full of sex and violence.

I am not a theatre buff (though I have been a film critic), but most of what I have seen in the theatre in the last 40 years has been mediocre beyond belief. I love Beckett and recently loved the Pinter revival. But what is so brilliant about Pinter is how much fear and menace he conjures just off stage. Every line a threat, every character is implicit in the horror. Its not in your face, it just gets in your head.

But that is not how to get middle-aged bums on expensive seats: instead promise something obscene and brutal, which is even more powerful when performed in a small, intimate space, as with this production. And this new play has already done what this sort of play should do. It has made someone pass out. Perhaps stars should be given based on how many people can be made to faint during any given production? Certainly this sounds five-star, involving as it does orgies in cars, sex toys and violence dished out by Game of Thrones star Stephen Dillane . Some have said it is extremely gross, with much violence meted out to women (is that a shock?), and Blanchett is being lauded as “brave” for portraying messed-up sex and violence.

It’s not as if such treatment is new – if you want to watch S&M in an intimate space go to a club, if you want to watch orgies in cars go dogging and if you want to watch women being brutalised you can watch most crime series on TV or any Gaspar Noé movie. Why then are we so precious about theatre? The young actor who helped the elderly woman who passed out said: “The play was sexually explicit and violent right from the start … and if you are not about that life, it might come across as shocking.”

I’d say if you can afford the £50 in order to be shocked you may not be “about that life”, but what do I know? The most shocked I have been in a theatre is at seeing standing ovations given to shouty actors who can’t even do an American accent. The real question is how valuable is shock as an aesthetic? This play uses Samuel Richardson’s Pamela as a provocation as six characters act out domination and resistance. It’s directed by Katie Mitchell, who also directed Sarah Kane’s Cleansed in 2016, which was hard to sit through, full as it was of hideous mutilations and torture. But Kane was the real deal. It’s not a success that’s easy to repeat.

The National Theatre says the play explores “the messy, often violent nature of desire and the fluid, complicated roles that men and women play”. One could say the same of The Fall, or indeed EastEnders, but maybe that is unfair and simply speaks of the tired respectability of much West End fare. “Theatre”, as Stella Adler said “is a spiritual and social x-ray of its time.” When it’s good that may well be true. For those who get to see the x-rays, it may even be great. For the rest of us we will have to torture each other with what we never got a chance to see. [Source]

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