More than any other theatre in Britain, the Barbican is bringing international theatre collaborations to our doorstep. Already this year it has seen three of our liveliest homegrown touring exports, Complicite, Cheek by Jowl and Improbable, and there will be appearances by the Ninagawa Company, Opera North and the Avignon Festival between now and September.
Chris Ryan and Cate Blanchett in Big and Small (Gross und Klein) at the Barbican Theatre, London Photo: Lisa Tomasetti
But travelling further, in every sense, is the arrival of Sydney Theatre Company with its production of Botho Strauss’ impressionistic, experimental piece of one woman’s physical as well as spiritual journey to forge connections in Big and Small (Gross und Klein). She may be shown to frequently fail in her quest, but forging connections is precisely what the Barbican is doing so spectacularly and uniquely.
You can detect the influence of both Simon McBurney and Robert Lepage, both frequent visitors to this stage, in the swift, dizzying theatricality of hotshot Australian director Benedict Andrews, who is soon to do a new production for ENO of Caligula. As in their work, there’s a preoccupation with feelings of personal alienation as individuals travel across continents and their own pasts to find their place in the world.
All of this runs the risk of being alienating to audiences, too, but thanks to the wondrous, constantly changing colours of Cate Blanchett’s performance as Lotte, Big and Small becomes transfixing. She’s an utterly magnetic, magnificent performer, and has a magnifying effect turning Big and Small’s series of alternately mundane and terrifying small vignettes into a big journey.
There’s an unmissable boldness and physical freedom to her playing that’s raw, exposed, vulnerable and haunting. Yet for all the artistic risk it represents, it’s also amazing to think that there was a time when work like this got houseroom in the West End - in 1983, Glenda Jackson starred in a production of the play at the West End’s Vaudeville in one of her last ever stage roles before she swapped acting for politics. In Blanchett, who is co-artistic director of Sydney Theatre Company, you can see an actress with the same kind of commitment and integrity.