Cate Blanchett Illuminates the Stage in “Big and Small”


© Lisa Tomasetti


© Lisa Tomasetti


© Lisa Tomasetti

Cate Blanchett is undoubtedly one of the most talented and brilliant actresses of her generation and a Hollywood star with films such as “Elisabeth", “Notes On a Scandal", “Babel" and “Aviator" among her many successes – it is therefore all the more admirable that she has refused to give up life on stage.

Together with her husband, the writer Andrew Upton, she is artistic director of the Sydney Theatre Company and has this spring toured Europe with their recent production of “Big and Small" by Botho Strauß in an adaptation by Martin Crimp. Blanchett has taken on the lead female role under the direction of Benedict Andrews and in the elegant, evocative yet simple set by Johannes Schütz. After an opening run in Sydney, the company has given performances at the Théatre de la Ville in Paris, at the Barbican in London, at the Festwochen in Vienna and at the Ruhrfestival in Germany to much acclaim and awards mainly for Cate Blanchett.

It is mesmerising to watch this actress unfold her character on stage and invest blood and sweat to interpret the journey of a woman in search of warmth and love in an anonymous, cold and lonely world. The part truly is challenging and Blanchett takes credit in making the plot bearable to watch. However, the play itself has not aged well since its creation in 1978 and Benedict Andrews though eager to keep up a quick pace throughout the play has not dared to make the necessary substantial cuts the text would desperately be in need of. Blanchett takes on the role of Lotte Kotte going through divorce from her husband and intent on forming new human relations. The play opens with a monologue of Blanchett sitting on the edge of the stage, sipping a cocktail during a Moroccan tourist trip. She is in fact eavesdropping on two men who to her avid ears seem to be having a philosophical or at least more meaningful conversation than she is used to. She yearns to be part of this group, yearns to have deep relationships that will transport her above and beyond the trivial and superficial society she lives in. And this yearning will send her on a journey in search of human contact and understanding but tragically earning rejection at every stop. In the final scene, she has lost her energy and drive, her eyes are void and dispirited, she sits among fellow patients in the waiting room of a doctor but is obviously not there to see the doctor but only to find company. A sad metaphor for the world as it is in today’s age.

Blanchett performs with every fibre of her being, dances, mimes, modulates her voice, skips and hops and is at every stage endearing to the audience in her optimism and truthfulness. Alas, the play, though it may have profited from the update of Martin Crimp’s translation, cannot rid itself from the weight of typical avant-garde German theatre of the 70s. The plot and message are obvious but are repeated and hammered into to the heads of a public that is deemed slow in comprehending the plight of the individual in our modern world.

But Ms. Blanchett’s performance compensates for the tiring dialogue and certain scenes are truly magical such as her dance sequence or her encounter at the bus stop. Her fragile and charismatic acting together with a surprising talent for comedy shines through and she truly has the capacity to light up a room and to draw on all the spectre of human behaviour and emotion. The audience cannot but fall under her spell.

By Reya von Galen




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