“Big and Small” at the Barbican

Among the many unmissable opportunities the Cultural Olympiad gives Londoners is the chance to see the renowned Sydney Theatre Company at the Barbican. Their star supporter, indeed Artistic Director, Cate Blanchett is performing, so no wonder its production of Big and Small is a hot ticket.

Don’t get too excited. Big and Small, originally Gross und Klein, is by the influential German playwright Botho Strauss and it is difficult stuff. It’s about, well, everything: big issues like society and the environment as well as how we experience the world epistemically. It’s difficult to describe without using big words – maybe it’s just about a woman who goes mad. In a series of disjointed, distinctly odd, scenes we see our heroine Lotte deal with a “sick minded” world and face rejection from friends, flatmates, lovers and family. For Lotte there is “disaster everywhere”.

Naturally, all eyes are on Blanchett. Lotte is a daring role for an actress to take on: childlike in her naivety, she becomes a kind of prophet with a belief she is one of the “righteous”. She has to be both an enigma and an everywoman. Blanchett prowls around with lots of “heavy breathing shit” and manages to do so convincingly: if she can talk to God then why shouldn’t she do so dancing, wearing a sequined dress and a crash helmet. It is a sense of fun, and some remarkable comic timing, that allows Blanchett’s star appeal to illuminate this occasionally opaque play.

The production is impeccably directed by Benedict Andrews. And it looks great with Johannes Schütz’s slick minimal design lit superbly by Nick Schlieper. The brave ensemble is precise, bold and committed. Even if you can’t quite keep up with the crazy antics you are sure to be impressed. Martin Crimp’s English text feels swift and sure and makes the most of the humour in the piece, managing to defeat a lot of the pretentiousness.

Until 29 April 2012

www.barbican.org.uk

Photo by Lisa Tomassetti

Written 18 April 2012 for The London Magazine

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