Theatre review: Big and Small at the Barbican

Hollywood’s Cate Blanchett wowed audience at the Barbican in surreal play

Cate Blanchett has already bagged a major best actress award in her native Australia for her turn in Botho Strauss’s Big and Small and it’s not hard to see why.

The Hollywood star certainly puts in a hefty performance, carrying the play as troubled loner Lotte, a lost soul searching for comfort and companionship.

In this new English translation of the German writer’s surreal 1978 work, she mesmerises from the opening monologue, in which she dextrously paints three characters, as oddball Lotte eavesdrops on two men pompously putting the world to rights.

We follow Lotte through a dark, claustrophobic world as she seeks out her estranged husband, her oldest friend and her brother, only to be rejected each time. She deteriorates from over-enthusiastic desperation into a possible breakdown, not helped by the cast of warped characters she encounters along the way.

It might sound hard-going, but the script is infused with humour and Blanchett is frequently hilarious. The entire cast displays impeccable comic timing – even a man getting a text in a doctor’s waiting room raises big laughs. As does a sudden flash of male nudity.

While it might be small in the plot department – Lotte’s quest for belonging is the only thread tying together this series of strange, isolated scenes – it’s well worth seeing for the big performance of its star.

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* Big and Small is at the Barbican, in Silk Street, EC2, until April 29