Gross und Klein Review375
Botho Strauss wrote his play Gross und Klein in 1978, three decades after one of the most momentous events in world history. Set primarily in Germany, the play deals with one woman’s inability to make human connections with others. Her almost autistic manner with the various characters she comes across could perhaps be seen as a metaphor for the German psyche after the war- an innocent woman, full of humanity that is unfortunately unseen and unheralded because people just don’t wish to know.
The play begins with a stunning monologue, Cate Blanchett’s Lotte instantly engaging the audience as she listens to, partially digests, and relates a conversation between two businessmen whilst on holiday in Morocco. She seems too easily impressed, exclaiming emphatic “Ah- MAY-zing!”s after every banality. It smells of desperation, and invites the audience into her mental state. We get a sense that she wants to please everybody she meets, which suggests a neediness borne out of rejection, or indifference.
Scenes that follow serve up more of the same, varying in intensity, but all with the same longing and desperation. Blanchett creates a pathetic but endearing character. We feel for her, and we cringe at her. Her humanity is offset by some rather sociopathic characters. She catches up with an old school friend who refuses to let her into her flat, meaning the conversation largely takes place through an intercom. She suggests inappropriate articles for her feature- writer husband, who is abusive and wants a divorce. Pathos is created when it becomes apparent that she cannot see or sense rejection, and blithely continues on whatever thread she has started. Her performance is nothing short of incredible, requiring a range of emotions of such depth so as to make the audience care explicitly about her. She is a very physical actor, and lunges around the stage in a perfect show of endurance. I remember thinking at the interval ‘she must be exhausted already’.
It must have been a bittersweet production for the other actors, who are relegated to the shade because of the star performance. All act their parts with gusto, but there is not enough meat in the individual characters. This is in part due to Blanchett’s barnstorming, but also because of the structure of the play, which is divided into ten scenes, each with different people, who appear, and then disappear never to return. It plays like a series of vignettes. The structure could be viewed as problematic because we don’t have enough time to soak in the story before it rushes on. The play is almost three hours long, but feels far shorter, which is probably a good thing. The narrative, whilst not strictly non-linear, feels so. Chapters seem unrelated, and I am quite sure that scenes could be mixed up and played in a different order, and the audience would be none the wiser.
The set design is minimalistic. I particularly liked the sense of distance created in a scene set at a bus stop, with white road strips decreasing in width as they stretch backwards. The sparsity of the set pieces allowed for total focus on the acting, which in the end, is the main reason to see this play.
Anthony Lewis- Binns