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Cate Blanchett in Big and Small (Gross und Klein)

The Oscar-winning actress gives a wonderfully compelling performance in Botho Strauss' fractured, difficult play.

By London
Cate Blanchett in
Big and Small (Gross und Klein)
(© Lisa Tomasetti)
Cate Blanchett in
Big and Small (Gross und Klein)
(© Lisa Tomasetti)
Botho Strauss' Big and Small (Gross und Klein), now at the Barbican Theatre as part of the London 2012 Festival, proves to be a wonderful showcase for Oscar winner Cate Blanchett, an incredibly charismatic performer with an appealing physicality. But as compelling as she is, Benedict Andrews' minimalistic production of what is an already challenging play can be hard work.

Written in 1978, and presented here in a new translation by Martin Crimp, Strauss' play consists of a series of disconnected episodes. Blanchett plays Lotte, a German woman in the process of getting a divorce from her journalist husband.

There's an Alice in Wonderland quality to her journey. She is forever on the outside looking in, constantly searching and seeking for something. She contacts old school friends, tracks down her estranged brother, latches onto strangers in the street, and hunts down the husband she remains fond of despite his callousness. But the world proves harsh and cold and Lotte's efforts to connect often leave her bewildered, rejected, and cast out once more into an indifferent city.

Blanchett is barely off-stage for the play's lengthy running time (and when she is, her absence is felt). She holds the audience's attention from her long opening monologue -- delivered from the balcony of a Moroccan hotel as she eavesdrops on the people below -- and her Lotte remains ever-hopeful and winning despite the repeated knocks she takes along the way.

However, by taking Strauss' work even further away from its original social and historical context and insisting on its universality, the production itself becomes harder to connect with.

There are memorable images scattered throughout -- Blanchett trapped behind glass, a scampering tent with a mind of its own -- and Johannes Schütz's stylized sets are simple yet often striking, but there is little sense of progression. The fractured, episodic style becomes wearying long before the end and this sense of fatigue is only partially redeemed by the gently uplifting final scene.

In the end, there is very little sense of dramatic momentum and the play remains remote and frustratingly hard to penetrate.


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