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Friday, 2 December 2011

Gross und Klein directed by Benedict Andrews and dissected by me

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.

22 comments:

  1. Luc BONDY. If you're going to publicise your opinions, at least gets people's names right...

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  2. The surrealism is contrived. Kate makes the best out of what is there, which isn't much. The family BBQ scene was the most enjoyable

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  3. oh who gives a stuff about anything. i once saw a production of an ibsen play and the designer forgot to remove the bar code price tags from the bottom of the shoes. now THAT'S enterTAINment!

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  4. I once saw a production of the Seagull at Belvoir where the stage manager and the assistant stage manager stole the show in walk on roles. Set changes mostly, with the odd smoke machine, and the occasional pause for a cigarette while the transition music played.

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  5. Andrews is the biggest case of a man prancing around in the emporers new clothes the theatre industry has ever seen. Seriously stale.

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  6. oh shut up he's a genius. my top taste-framer among the lot of em. (and there's certainly a lot of em). Talk about mise en scene! When I buy a ticket to his vision I am sure to get value for money because his vision always outshines the other artists on the team. Cast, playwrights, whatever.

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  7. "his vision always outshines the other artists on the team"

    ...You do know what a director is supposed to be doing, right?

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  8. Genius.... He makes a very pretty play, always, and the sound design is...hip. But those scenes are directionless blobs, meander along with no decisiveness, that just seem to get in the way of his....genius? I'd love a director in this town some day soon to put down the friggen design box and look at their actors and the script.

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  9. Get your ass on Twitter so we can help get you the readers you deserve.

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  10. I was being ironic when I said "his vision always outshines the other artists on the team". In fact, it's exactly what I HATE about these so-called auteurs. Sorry, I must remind myself to put it one of these after an ironic sentence: (ha)

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  11. You know the old rule[the baseball one?].....Well Mr Andrews,that's three strikes....The third and final opportunity I have given him...The only Gripe I have is actually not him at all.It's all those other twats that Put the "Emperor's Robes" on him in the first place.Between him and Cardigan Boy at Belvoir,I would say it's time for a revolution[back to co-ops at Fitz and Darlo]
    Where at least a Glimmer of hope still exists.

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  12. Just hope you guys aren't teaching drama and passing on your conservative and pedestrian views to your students. Always leave a window open for wonderment and experimentation is my motto, but you guys just shut every artistic door. To reduce artists to description of 'cardigan boys', 'caffe latte drinking upstarts', and a proliferation of 'unshaven beards' says more about this readership than the artists.

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    Replies
    1. Yet if there is nothing wondrous, nor actually experimental nor anything new? What if is not conservatism, but education and experience? There is such a thing as been there, done that, bought the t-shirt, grew out of it. Little kids like balls of alfoil because they have never seen them before. Just offering an option.

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  13. No it doesn't Anonymous. If you think Benedict Andrews is the model of wonderment and experimentation, then you need to get out more.

    Putting actors in a glass box is not exciting and it's hardly ground breaking.

    Peter Brook's words on this are everlasting:

    "Deadliness always brings us back to repetition: the deadly director uses old formulae, old methods, old jokes, old effects, stock beginnings to scenes, stock ends; and this applies equally to his partners, the designers and composers, if they do not start each time afresh from the void, the desert and the true question - why clothes at all, why music, what for? A deadly director is a director who brings no challenge to the conditioned reflexes that every department must contain."

    After years and years of the same old formulae (Read: Bingo Cards), Andrews' is nothing but a director of deadly theatre.

    The readership and the author of this blog are so right on, it's not even funny.

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  14. My. God So. European theatre is not to your taste. I suppose Beckett isn't high on your love list either. It was brilliant like a Jackson Pollack is brilliant.

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  15. Love Beckett. Love European Theatre. Just please don't let Andrews direct them. I don't go to the theatre to see beautiful set concepts. I want drama. I want him to direct the text and the actors.

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  16. Glad to see that walking out of this dire show at interval was saving myself another hour of my life that I wasn't ever going to get back. This whole season of STC plays this year was so hit and miss and next year doesn't look to be any improvement. Is this really what we can come to expect from one of Australia's best known theatre companies?

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  17. Where I would beg to differ from "Jane" is this:
    I love European theatre and the concepts that come with them:It's the direction/translations that make them look bad.
    [Like lawyers misrepresenting their clients badly.]
    I look at the programming for what's to come and I feel sad,not because of the plays themselves,but what will be done to them,more likely anyways...I KNOW i's negative,but more often than not,it's sadly true.
    And to the earlier post regarding "shutting down artistic doors"....I have been to so many shows directed by people who have displeased me in the past[on more than one occasion] and I still go because the concept sounds great[War of the Roses,for instance]
    And then walk out wanting to purchase an uzi and go to macca's for "lunch"....
    It's not closed minded ignorance,it's an open heart willing to risk being wounded,yet again...I am not sure about "closed mindedness" etc etc as I LOVE THE THEATRE,and excuse me for being "selfish" for wanting it to be better than the current state I find it to be in,all because of a few upstarts that have nothing but contempt for the very people they purport to "entertain"...

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  18. "Throw me a bone"? You are so clearly an idiot it is not funny. Actually, it is. Idiot.

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    1. "Throw someone a bone = Give someone a tiny bit of help." ie. Give her something that she can give a bit of praise to-are you aware of the meaning of that expression, or are you a.....well, I wouldn't want to say.
      So, do you know what you mean (insulting name) , or not (insulting name) , or do you, or not? Insulting name. There's only one clear thing here mate.

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