Review: When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other


by Mike Matthaiakis

In Martin Crimp’s play, “When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other,” the anticipation of a sensational and shocking theatrical experience is met with a diagrammatic exploration of modern sexual dynamics devoid of social context. Subtitled “12 Variations on Samuel Richardson’s Pamela,” the play features Cate Blanchett and Stephen Dillane as the central performers who inject vitality into the drily cerebral text.

Under Katie Mitchell’s agile direction and Vicki Mortimer’s design, the action is relocated to a modern garage where Blanchett and Dillane, referred to simply as Woman and Man, engage in a series of sadomasochistic power games. The dynamics shift, roles reverse, and gender becomes fluid, reflecting Crimp’s exploration of the evolving power balance between men and women in contemporary society.

While the argument about shifting gender dynamics is not groundbreaking, the play’s dramatic impact falters due to the uneven contest between the characters. The Man, seeking to assert dominance, is portrayed as a neurotic weakling easily outwitted by the Woman’s resilience. The reversed roles present an uneven dynamic, detracting from the potential collision of equal forces necessary for compelling drama.

Fortunately, the two actors deliver highly watchable performances. Blanchett showcases her extraordinary capacity to shift vocal and physical registers, embodying wily femininity and resilient masculinity. Dillane navigates the challenging task of portraying a Man always on the back foot with finesse, making the illusion of power intriguing. Jessica Gunning provides good support as the housekeeper, introducing a lesbian fascination element from Richardson’s novel.

Despite the sexually explicit nature of Mitchell’s production, the play’s arguments about the overthrow of oppressive masculinity and the malleability of gender are not likely to shock audiences familiar with contemporary discourse. Blanchett’s consummate acting skills and the production’s explicit elements contribute to an engaging theatrical experience, even if the play’s thematic exploration may feel familiar and lacking in surprise.

When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other is at the Dorfman Theatre until 2 March.