Saturday 24 December 2011

Blanchett, Unbuttoned

I saw Gross Und Klein on Wednesday night and in the middle of the second row of the stalls underwent an experience unlike any other in my life thus far: an intimate exposure to one of the world's great stage performances by a female, and a play so jagged and bewildering I wanted to leave the theatre.
It's about a woman seeking lodgings, friendships, family love and personal fulfilment who may be a little mad. Her husband beats her; she leaves him; she begs him to take her back; he beats her again, inexplicably; some people she stays with for a while evict her; her best friend from school won't invite her up as she stands forlorn on the street and presses the button; she attends a family gathering at which a mad son pulls down his father's beach shorts exposing his genitals; at one point she talks to the audience about the dreary time she's having at a conference overhearing conversations in the restaurant and saying the word 'amazing' a lot and 'I love voices'; she bleeds from the crotch at one point and holds up bloodied fingers in wonderment. It's all very puzzling, and I'm not sure what to make of it. It's as if there was a missing first act and I got there an hour late.
In the lead role Blanchett flings herself about in a kind of puppet-dance, a dance of death, a terminal frenzy, a Pinocchio becoming human. She leers, winningly. She sings, beautifully, then stops. She confides in us. She tells of her nightmares. She slumps; seems dead; revives. Her luminous communicativeness, if that's the right phrase, is an unrivalled, confronting experience for an audience, like being stuck in a lift with Sarah Palin when she is speaking in tongues, and her long ovation, and the religious fervour of it, at the end of the show entirely deserved, I think. Benedict Andrews' direction was wonderful at times, using the great depth of the stage to see a faraway nervy conversation in a phone box, for instance. The set flew about and reassembled itself as if it had a mind of its own. Every minute of it was impressive and every fifteen minutes made me pine for a hip-flask and an absorbing novella.
And I couldn't get over the the rising thought that the play was a series of jottings, randomly jumbled together and flung at a fine director, a really good cast, and a great, great actress to make sense of somehow. Like Pinter, really, but crazier. Out of similar female disorder Hare made Plenty and Jean-Jacques Beineix Betty Blue, and the audience understood. It could be seen as a female Hamlet or a sort of Mistress Courage or a modern metropolitan Odyssey or an updated Edible Girl or Sterile Cuckoo or Dud Avocado or, on the other hand, a glad-bag of tampons, mouse droppings, Fantale wrappers and postcards from the edge.
It's all very hectic, depressive, post-modern and German, and never mentions the war. The writer, Botho Strauss, may be one of those travelling loud Germans in tiny swimsuits who fail to make friends on foreign beaches; or not. It's hard to tell. The title apparently derives from Alice, in Alice in Wonderland, being either too big or too small for the various magical places she fetches up in.
I should see more European theatre, clearly; or less.
I wonder what it all means.


At 29 December 2011 at 00:22 , Blogger Helvi said...

My best Australian actress is Judy Davies, not Cate Blanchett,Judy was brilliant in The Eye Of The Storm.

At 29 December 2011 at 01:49 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

Judy Davis. She is very fine. But unlike her Cate Blanchett can play a thirty-year-old, a forty year old, a fifty year old and any age over that. Judy is constrained by her age now and must yield the sceptre.

I saw both their Hedda Gablers, and there was nothing in it.

For Judy's best filmed performance, see Winter Of Our Dreams. For Cte's, the first Elizabeth. I understand Judy's Piaf was amazing. And Cate's Blanche in Streetcar was excellent.


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