Thursday, December 15, 2011


Gross und Klein (Botho Strauss, 1978, Berlin) is nothing if not a 'star vehicle' and in Cate Blanchett it has a very starry star indeed. And incredibly, she's on stage for something like three hours each performance, then home to three children, eight times a week, week after week, while co-artistic director of the Sydney Theatre Company as well. I am in awe.

She seems so hardworking, so sensible, so balanced and yet so naturally glamorous that affectation never blips on the radar, and most of all, she is possessed of this extraordinary talent to assume a character in such a seamless almost mysterious way that the art and craft of her craft and art dissolve. It is a thing of beauty. This is a beautiful performance, far more so for me than the last time I saw her, in a much acclaimed but less convincing (for me) Blanche in Streetcar. Not that she wasn't good. She's always good.

Perhaps it's the language (translation and adaptation by Martin Crimp) with mixed vernacular and straight text laced with German names and ultimately a universal voice for a universal dilemma - the search for meaning and truth in the banality of the everyday. Perhaps it's the character, a disconnected Lotte, in a disconnected city is a disconnected world, who finds no meaning in the meaningless of existence and therein some salvation. As dysfunctional as she first seems, it is she who ultimately sees that the insanity is not within her but around here.

I was not ever less than riveted, and sometimes overcome, as in the final scene, where Lotte, hunched perfectly still, almost transparent, out-of-body for a time, now a spirit (Cate does transparent better than anyone, ever - helped by Nick Schlieper's lighting and Johannes Sch├╝tz's set design which are just stunningly effective) as the characters of her world sit motionless alongside her, each chillingly called offstage by name through a cold soulless intercom, as if to execution, none returning. When the doctor (for we are in fact in his waiting room) finding her when he imagined his day was done enquires as to her purpose, she closes the play (almost) with:

"I'm just here. There's nothing wrong with me"

That I could be so wise.

It is not to everyone's taste. One hears things like 'well I just didn't understand it, and we didn't go back after interval" That's the whole point surely. Tell me anyone who understands this thing called existence and I'll show you a very advanced spirit. There has been some criticism of the director (Benedict Andrews for an unable-to-travel Luc Bondy) but that is beyond my level of theatrical maturity. I just found it profound and true to my sensibilities.

I was on the phone first thing next morning and scored two returns for this week. To hear the text, to be transfixed by Cate B again, as for example in the mesmerising moment when the black stage holds nothing but a metallic phone box (lit from within with Lotte dialling haplessly out) starts to slowly rotate and drift, that incredible face and body shape of Cate Blanchett, revolving around before us, now visible now not, drifting away, in a scene that took me right back to that moment in Kubrick's 2001 where the astronaut is cut adrift in space and spins out of control in a fusion of complete horror and incredible beauty.

This 'production' will be reprised in London next year as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad (oxymoronic to some I know). I wonder if Luc Bondy will be re-involved.

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