Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Theatre review: Gross und Klein

Sydney Theatre Company's production of Botho Strauss' Gross und Klein is subtitled with the English translation of the title, Big and Small, a subtitle that's been getting bigger in the publicity as the months went on, presumably to avoid disappointment from people expecting a cop show featuring the mismatched partnership of Paul Gross from Due South and underpant merchant Calvin Klein. Instead it's a slice of 1970s German expressionism, modernised in a translation by Martin Crimp. Lotte is on a journey, starting on holiday in Morocco before returning to Germany. She drops in on other people's lives, finding all their little pronouncements, from pearls of wisdom to tedious management-speak "amazing!" She moves into an apartment block where everyone wanders in and out of each other's flats at whim, and a girl lives permanently in a tent. She joins her brother's family at a bizarre garden party, starts dating a man then plays at being his secretary, and preaches Kabbalah to a man at a bus stop. And there we have it.

Australian theatre can be on the off-beat side so maybe German plays are more popular there than they generally are here. As it is, this surely wouldn't be any kind of box office draw were it not starring Cate Blanchett (a woman so profoundly dyslexic she can't spell "Kate." Or "Blanket.") Though there's a supporting cast of 13, it's totally a showcase for Blanchett, who has to take Lotte through ten surreal scenes, running the gamut from "a bit ditsy" via "magic pixie dream girl" to "batshit bag lady." It's a bravura performance but ultimately wasted in a play so aggressively, wilfully obtuse. Overhearing interval conversations, I never realised there were quite so many ways of saying "I have no idea what's going on."

Director Benedict Andrews¹ has largely aimed for comedy, and his leading lady shows good timing and a gift for physical comedy, with the supporting cast occasionally getting laughs as well, especially Chris Ryan as Albert and Man in Parka. Another overheard comment, at the end this time, was that it was clear why Blanchett would be interested in the show as it's such a showcase for her talent. This it is; it's not much else though. Maybe my cop show would have been better after all. "One of them designs pants! The other one... I dunno, wears them? Together they FITE CRIME!"

Gross und Klein (Big and Small) by Botho Strauss in a version by Martin Crimp is booking until the 29th of April at the Barbican Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes including interval.

¹not Luc Bondy, as my ticket says; maybe he got stuck on Bondy Beach AHAHAHAHAetc²

²seriously though, if I'm spending so much of the play thinking up lame jokes for the review it is NOT a good sign

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