Phone book reading and star turns at the theatre: Big and Small

There are people out there that would watch a talented actress read a phonebook. Gross Und Klein is a new translation of Botho Strauss's 1978 play at the Barbican comes close to this experience. Direct from Sydney Theatre Company and headlined by Cate Blanchett it is the unravelling of a woman's life after her husband leaves her.

The play starts off well with Blanchett's character overhearing conversations from a hotel window in Morocco. It's a wonderful monologue that brings out many of the themes of the play. But unfortunately it doesn't go anywhere. Is it in her mind? Did her husband leaving her unravel her life? Is she alone? Is she depressed? We don't really know.

What follows for the next three hours is a series of scenes about isolation, loneliness, detachment and mental breakdown. Some of them are pretty, some of them creepy. But none offer much insight or are weirdly imaginative enough to sustain interest in this epic. Blanchett runs the gamut of facial expressions and actorly movements... She is attacked by a camping tent... She wrestles a fat girl having convulsions in her underwear... There is even an old man with a flaccid penis. It is all no doubt intended to provoke interest but it was hard to stifle the yawns.

The only time something happens is when a scene stops (ends) and the lights go out. The music is pumped up and it is a cue for the actors to move the furniture about on stage. It is the only time anything really happens and it makes you wonder whether the actors trained at NIDA or Pickfords.

The current translation with an Australian cast with broad Australian accents also evokes some unexpected thoughts. Does living in rude and vulgar 1970s West Germany really seem to be so similar to living in present day Australia? It appears so.

The joke is probably on the audience for going. But given the star turn it will be hard to resist. It runs through to the end of April and then tours Europe. If you dare...

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