The opening of Gross und Klein, Cate Blanchett’s engaging comic monologue regaling the conversation going on outside her door, using her wonderful manipulation of voice and timing, held the play in great promise. But like all of director’s Benedict Andrews theatrical offerings and German post-modernism, it must go downhill and Gross und Klein was no exception. By the end of this play the almost 3 hour show felt twice as long, as evidenced by the snorting elderly, who had succumbed to sleep and not Blanchett’s star power.
German surrealist literature….well, perhaps all German literature actually, can often be categorised as reflecting a people who understand that everything turns to shit. This being the case, Gross und Klein fulfilled its objective. By the end not even the enticement of hearing the actors Q & A or catching another glimpse of Kevin Spacey in the audience was enough to make me want to stay. Benedict Andrews’ art of dragging out time and place, of the excruciating focus of deliberately stretching out every moment until all you can hear is your own breathing, meant that this play was very hard going in the second half. His choice to continually choose works that look at the isolation of people who are cast out as aliens in their own worlds is often played the same in his stylistic surreal interpretations. People may argue that this is what he wants- we’ve covered this before in previous works of Andrews, but I have to ask, if I come out of the play thinking that without Blanchett, that play is a whole bundle of boring and even with her, I just don’t care about what happens, has it really fulfilled me as an audience member. I mean throw me a bone- I still have be invested in the message, even if you don’t want me to empathise with the characters.
There is no disputing that Cate Blanchett is a great actress and this play is clearly a vehicle for her to remind us that she is an accomplished performer. However, I feel like the rest of the cast were dumbed down or abandoned in development in order for Blanchett to only ever be the driver of this show, with the exception of the Dictation scene with Richard Pyros, whose comic abilities were at least allowed to flourish in the byplay with Blanchett. For such a large ensemble it felt like they were all bit players in a one man (or woman) show and most of the cast looked as disinterested as I was in the end.
The set design by Johannes Schutz was problematic. Perhaps partly that is the space of Sydney Theatre that allows for the epic and yet I think this play called for intimacy. Perhaps it is because he was designing from another country and didn’t get to feel for the space and its design needs. The most confusing part was the Ten Rooms scene as the audience were left to wonder whether these entrances were into different rooms or the same room in the passing of time encompassing the routine of daily drudgery. I didn’t mind the repetition- I just felt the coherence was lacking.
Oh…and the glass box. Seriously? Again? Is there no other theatrical metaphor Andrews can use to show isolation and observation? Please refer to my previous Bingo cards and tick that one off the list. These days I think Andrews is so predictable that the only element of surprise I might possibly have that I could never anticipate in one of his shows is to actually enjoy it.
The second half of Gross und Klein stalls like Andrews trying to discuss his own vision and that’s what kills it in the end. There feels like a serious need for editing and that reinforces my previous points about the play’s rhythm and pace. Gross und Klein needed a sophisticated manipulation of interpretation- I wonder how it would have fared under the original director Luc Bondy?
Just one final sledge before I go. Robert Menzies. Now I’m all for suspending disbelief but if you seriously expect me to accept that Lotte’s obsession with her husband Paul can be encapsulated in Menzies, you’re delusional. Menzies range is limited and thus characters played by him suffer from a lack of dimensions and complexity. If Lotte’s spiral is connected to her relationship with Paul, we are in some serious danger of dismissing the play’s journey even before it starts.
So if you haven’t seen Blanchett in action, really this is the only reason you would go to see Gross und Klein. If you have, well, I’d suggest there are better ways to spend your time and money. And my advice to German writers- lighten up people. You are in some serious need of joy.