Thursday, December 8, 2011

Gross Und Klein // Sydney Theatre Company

The painful, awkward and ill-at-ease experiences of an outsider is perfectly and delicately realised in the Sydney Theatre Company's final main stage play Gross Und Klein. Lotte, played by Cate Blanchett is an outsider in every respect - social, societal and even self. She is gauche, bizarre and suspiciously wacko. But she is also terrifically funny, simple and inspires so much empathy that I found myself wondering and worrying about the present state of this fictional character.

"I wonder how she is now", I thought after leaving the theatre. I haven't had this kind of a reaction since seeing Fellini's Nights of Cabiria the very first time. In fact, the final scenes from that film and the final scene from this play struck a similar chord. With Cabiria's final glance into the camera and Lotte's final lines and her walking back into the blackness of the world, they both let us know that circumstances may not be ideal but they are going to be just fine.

Both characters stand on the fringes of society and Lotte even more so but she never lets that get in the way of her unyielding desire to connect with other human beings. This connection is something we all crave for even if it is only brief and shared with a complete stranger but rarely do we act on it unless it is accidental. Lotte on the other hand is very deliberate in her interactions, nothing is accidental and sometimes it even feels like she's trespassing over a tenuous social boundary. From the very first scene we feel we are an accomplice to an intruder. She eavesdrops over a conversation of two "philosophers" and even physically trespasses into a couple's bedroom. This trespassing persists throughout the play but the people Lotte disturbs become more and more unwelcoming. 

This is a sad story but comedic moments punctuates the play and the laughs are sometimes uncomfortable and even feel unsure. It's funny to see a grown woman dance awkwardly across the stage wearing a shimmery, gold dress but then it feels a tad sad as well. Like a stand up comedian going through divorce and cracking jokes about married life.

One of the strengths of the play comes from its thoughtful visual design. Alice Babidge's costumes are timeless and does not indicate a particular time or place. This could be set in any decade. It could be set in Germany or Australia, it doesn't really matter. The costumes serve a universal purpose that smartly takes the attention away from itself. Costuming is a language that can sometimes speak too loud or too weakly. Thankfully, Babidge finds the right balance. Although there is one costuming choice that feels out of place. Not Blanchett's gold dress but Sophie Ross' tube dress that barely covers her and makes her look like she came in from a night out at King's Cross. To be fair though, that's exactly what the character was supposed to be.

Johannes Schutz' set design is clever, functional and bold without overpowering the actors. There's a white beam going across the stage that serves several purposes throughout the play from waiting room seats to a faux catwalk. The clean geometry of furniture, props and their placement on the stage reflect a modernist feel. The sets are reduced of unnecessary clutter and details. It feels so restrained and empty that it's as if the space is visualising the cruel, cold commands of modern living.

Lotte is shoved around this cruel environment and though it feels empty she seems to inhabit the space as humbly and as pleasantly as she can make it.

Directed by Benedict Andrews from the Botho Strauss play and translated by Martin Crimp.

Images are edited from these original sources: 1, 2, 3, 4


  1. I was surprised by how much I loved it and it was largely due to Blanchett. I doubt I would've felt so strongly about another's performance. My friends and I were in love with the minimalist set design and also resisted the urge to Shazam the music played between scenes. Do you have any idea?

  2. Nope unfortunately I have no idea who the music was composed by. But I'm glad you enjoyed the play!



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