LIZ JONES has her say on Cate Blanchett’s much-hyped new play

Shocking? No, just shockingly terrible! LIZ JONES has her say on Cate Blanchett’s much-hyped new play (which has so much sex and violence that one old lady fainted)

  • National Theatre play is called When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other
  • It also stars Game Of Thrones actor Stephen Dillane and is set inside a garage 
  • Tickets were so in demand, costing £50, they could only be obtained by a lottery 

It is being hailed as the most shocking play to open in London since Hair and has had people queuing before 4am for tickets.

A broadsheet newspaper declared on Friday: ‘This S&M play is just the shock tepid theatre needs… brutal and unsparing.’

So much so that at a preview performance last week, an elderly woman in the audience fainted and had to be carried out by a young actor, who said: ‘It was sexually explicit and violent from the start… and if you are not about that life, it might come across as shocking.’

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

Ever since, the theatre has taken to sending emails to audience members warning them what to expect.

As if that wasn’t drama enough, the play stars Cate Blanchett, one of my absolute favourite actresses, as well as Game Of Thrones actor Stephen Dillane.

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So I couldn’t have been more intrigued to catch a preview of When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other, which officially opens at the National Theatre on Wednesday.

Tickets were so in demand, despite costing £50, they could only be obtained by a lottery and the entire run is sold out.

I only grabbed a ticket by queuing on Friday afternoon for a last-minute return.

Sadly, I quickly realised the play, being staged at the National’s tiny Dorfman Theatre, should really be called When We Have Sufficiently Tortured The Poor Audience.

Tickets for the show starring the A-list actor (pictured in October) are available via ballot only, given the high demand

It’s pretty much a two-hander between Blanchett and Dillane and is set inside a garage, complete with Audi. There are strip lights and mess and a very large actress who utters groundbreaking insights into obesity along the lines of, ‘I’m only fat because I’m poor’. She officiates at the wedding of Blanchett, who is clearly insane, to Dillane, who plays a part I can only describe as cantankerous old git.

There is no plot to speak of. The couple argue all the time – in the lead-up to the wedding, in the front seats of the car. We can only suppose that Blanchett has suggested he consult a map.

Early on, Dillane gratuitously attacks her with a scalpel, bloodying her face. He smacks her exposed rump. She retaliates by strutting around in a corset, displaying a Pilates-honed body only native to Beverly Hills.

She has been lauded as ‘brave’ for portraying messy sex and violence; I’d say she’s spent so many years strutting her stuff on the red carpet, she’s brainwashed.

There is a nod to modern times when the actors swap genders. But this can’t disguise the fact we’re in thrall to Neanderthal values. Blanchett actually utters the line: ‘I’d rather be raped than bored.’

Her part is curiously weak, too: unlike Liz Taylor, who gives as good as she gets to Richard Burton or Paul Newman, Blanchett capitulates quickly and is seen to crawl on the floor when told to do so. If I wanted to see a supplicant, I’d pop down the road to Stringfellows. No one in the audience gasps or faints. Only one woman walks out, quite early on. She doesn’t seem upset, she’s probably just realised it’s two hours long, with no interval, and that she has a hungry cat. That’s how tedious it is.

There is only one sharp line. The Man is telling a long anecdote about how he bought a punnet of cherries. The couple argue. He says: ‘I thought you found talking attractive.’ ‘Yes,’ she shoots back, ‘but then you go on talking.’

The National Theatre has sent an email to ticket holders warning them about the show 

The only thing I learn is that women and men are equally ghastly. That we push each other’s buttons and don’t know when to stop. Blanchett is mesmerising: her face is all angles, she delivers lines like bullets, but even so I feel betrayed.

There is no tension, no surprise. I long for Noel Coward’s repressed dialogue in Brief Encounter – that’s a part I’d love Blanchett to inhabit.

It’s very hard to infer, so easy to shock and I expect more from the National. This play manages to be both nasty and comical: in the final scene, Blanchett gets hold of a sex toy, straps it on, and proceeds to have sex with her co-star as his trousers and the curtain drop, causing much tittering.

There is no standing ovation, but also no boos.

I wonder if I’m the philistine, so I corner theatre-goers afterwards. A woman from Brixton tells me: ‘I think I need the weekend to process it.’ When I ask what the play is trying to say, another tells me: ‘I will have to think about that.’

Melissa Favors-Oliver, 19, from New Jersey, says: ‘I was expecting it to be way more controversial because of what we’ve read… I was expecting to be more shocked.’

Far from ‘Crowd passes out at orgy’, as Friday’s headlines proclaimed, the women I speak to want to be more challenged because, frankly, we’ve seen it all before.

‘When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other’ is based on Samuel Richardson’s novel, Pamela

This play doesn’t explore new ground, or explain old ground. We see the female star’s buttocks, but the male actor here retains his dignity throughout.

Elissa, a soignee audience member, tells me: ‘I think it’s very anti-women. I wasn’t expecting that – it’s a big mistake. I’d have walked out had I not been seated at the front.’

Blanchett said in a recent interview she is aware ‘some people might be enraged, some perplexed, some people excited’.

Only the second of those three ambitions is achieved.

You know what I find shocking? The fact the young actor, Samuel Tucker, the one who assisted the fainting woman, explains the play thus: ‘For all women out there [Blanchett is saying] even when you are 49 you can… be all-powerful and sexy.’

Is that what it’s about? And if it is, then WOMEN ALREADY KNOW THIS! We don’t need to spend 50 quid to find this out.

What planet are these intellectuals on, believing they’re giving us something ‘avant-garde’, when all they are really doing is pandering to the idea that unless you’re 20, you cannot possibly enjoy sex, and that you’re no longer attractive, even if you look like Cate Blanchett.

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