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A CurtainUp London London Review
Gross und Klein

This is the kind of mindless violence that festers under urban malaise. — Man
Gross und Klein
This 1978 play from German playwright Botho Strauss receives a new translation from Martin Crimp and stars the ethereal Cate Blanchett as Lotte, the woman whose abusive relationship shatters both her life and the structure of the play. In a fest of eclecticism we are put through the mill of Lotte’s torturous journey back to regaining her self esteem and sanity. Such an impressionistic and fractured play will not be to everyone’s taste as they try to fathom many moments of incomprehensibility. However if you like theatre which makes you work at it, Gross und Klein may be the answer in providing questions rather than solutions.

There are moments of pure absurdity; for instance, in the block of flats where Lotte meets someone concealed inside a green tent, who never comes out when anyone else is around but moves the tent across the room reminding me of my daughter’s sleepover parties when, with their legs inside their sleeping bags, the little girls shuffled around the room on their knees like oversized caterpillars. The absurdist humour will tickle some of the audience but not all. There are also quite sexually explicit moments, of genital rubbing or the wafting of deodorant around Lotte’s crotch which I wasn’t totally comnfortable with, but which engendered hearty laughter. Other moments are like a revue sketch, as when Lotte rings different bells on the apartment intercom looking for the one person she thinks lives there.

Some images are very powerful and stay with you. When Lotte meets her husband’s new mistress, the status of this woman is exposed when she unzips her dress to reveal a T shirt emblazoned with the face of Lotte’s husband. In one image, more has been said about the shifting relationship than in dozens of conversations. In another scene, the tall, thin piece of a corner set pushes forward with Lotte trapped inside it, in a brilliant depiction of the claustrophobia of mental walls closing in on you. We could feel how oppressive the walls were becoming. Much of the dialogue falls on Cate Blanchett as Lotte and several scenes call for her spoken reflections and observation. She is an amazing actress but this play is hard work for one person because Lotte is the only character we care about.

The opening scene sees Lotte on holiday in Agadir, Morocco commenting on her fellow travellers except that it isn’t possible to imagine Lotte would not be hit upon by the many Moroccan men offering extra services to tourists. The second scene has her looking into the flat of an arguing couple where the woman has a large fashion wardrobewhich she invites Lotte to comment on. The second act opens with a scene in a glass fronted telephone box, Lotte’s hands on the glass showing the confined nature of her distress. The family scenes has her brother’s children, two enfants terrible, Albert and Josfina recommending that people should not procreate. Albert obsesses with sex and masturbates and Josefina is a teenager with a drink problem. In a beautifully set up stylised office, Lotte tries to hold down an office job but stress takes its toll on her sanity.

I suspect this play might need to be seen on several occasions before you would start to understand the many complex threads but you might need a degree of obsession to undertake this or at least a relationship with the production.

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Gross und Klein
Written by Botho Strauss
English text by Martin Crimp
Directed by Benedict Andrews

Starring: Cate Blanchett
With: Lynette, Curran, Anita Hegh, Belinda McClory, Josh McConville, Robert Menzies, Katrina Milosevic, Yalin Ozucelik, Richard Piper, Rochard Pyros, Sophie Ross, Chris Ryan, Christopher Stollery, Martin Vaughan
Set Designed by Johannes Schütz
Lighting: Nick Schlleper
Composer and Sound Design: Max Lyandvert
Costume Design: Alice Babidge
Running time: Two hours 45 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 7638 8891
Booking to 29th April 2012
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 14th April 2012 performance at the Barbican Theatre, Silk Street, London EC2Y 8DS (Tube: Barbican or Moorgate)

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