In Review

Cate Blanchett mesmerising in Big and Small role

Blanchett's dazzling performance makes this grim Cold War play worth catching at the Barbican

Cate Blanchett

What you need to knowBig and Small (Gross und Klein) is an international touring production from the Sydney Theatre Company of a 1978 surrealist German play by Botho Strauss. It tells the story of a lonely woman, abandoned by her husband, who embarks on an odyssey in search of love and acceptance. This revival is directed by Benedict Andrews, with a new translation by Martin Crimp. It appears at the Barbican as part of the London 2012 festival. Oscar-winning Australian actress Cate Blanchett, known for her film roles in Elizabeth, Lord of the Rings, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, stars in the lead role of Lotte. Blanchett is also co-director of the Sydney Theatre Company with her husband, Andrew Upton. What the critics likePart road trip, part Alice in Wonderland, this isn’t so much an enjoyable evening as a thrilling one, says Charles Spencer in The Daily Telegraph. In lesser hands it could be a windy bore, but Blanchett’s mesmeric performance is spellbinding. She combines “dramatic virtuosity with truth, humour, tenderness and aching vulnerability”. Far from being dated, this satire of a materialist society is more topical then ever, says Michael Billington in The Guardian. Strauss has written one of the best parts for a woman in the modern repertory. Blanchett inhabits it with every fibre of her being, adds Billington, giving “one of the most dazzlingly uninhibited performances I’ve ever seen”. She will long be remembered for this role. Strauss’s atomised world is realised in a beautifully minimal set design, says Ian Shuttleworth in the Financial Times. “The degree to which we relate to that world is moot; what is beyond dispute is the quality of Blanchett’s performance.”  What they don’t likeBlanchett is magnificent throughout but the play has problems, says Paul Taylor in The Independent. Removed from its original Cold War context, some of Lotte’s behaviour (such as remaining devoted to her beast of a husband) “stretches credulity to breaking point”. At times it feels “like a portentously puckish tourist trip to the Land of All-Purpose Alienation”. Strauss’s fractured, puzzling indirectness won’t be to everyone’s taste, says Henry Hitchings in the Evening Standard. His account of isolation is repetitive and often impenetrable and the characters Lotte interacts with are grimly banal. Yet “this is Blanchett’s show” and her physically compelling, luminous performance makes a sometimes baffling production worth seeing. 

  •  At the Barbican until 29 April

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