Alice’s Germanic Wonderland

Big and Small – Sydney Theatre Company, Barbican Theatre until April 29 2012

Boho Strauss’1970’s play Big and Small has been given a new translation by every A-level student’s favourite writer, Martin Crimp, and a major box office draw has been added in the form of Cate Blanchett. Sporting a spare but striking visual motif that weaves in moments from Alice in Wonderland, the resulting production is crisp and clean but remains a mixed-bag; both in terms of structure and in terms of quality. Director Benedict Andrews introduces some lovely elements throughout but it often feels that he is having to work very hard with not a great deal of material – although it should be pointed out that ‘not a great deal of material’ manages to fill over 2½ hours of stage time.

The main challenge for the production is its unevenness; a fragmented, dream-like structure is an appropriate choice for a play charting an individual’s experience of social alienation, and a lack of an obvious direct narrative helps capture the essence of isolation rather than the reasons behind it. It is attempting a theatre of poetry rather than a theatre of stories.

The unevenness relates to a lack of balance; the first half feels ponderous and slow, a series of scenes acting as snapshots of a multi-occupancy house induced a level of tedium due to scene changes that took longer than the actual scenes, and there is a free-wheeling lack of focus that suggests a play that is struggling to understand what it wants to be.

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