Another Benedict Andrews play. I can do that. I mean, I have left most of his plays at interval (not the ones I reviewed, of course) but I quite liked The Seagull at Belvoir – primarily because of the performances and in spite of the direction.
I will be honest and say I don’t understand why Andrews has had the kind of work he has had in this industry. After working in New York and Europe sometimes coming back to Australia feels a little like travelling back in time. Perhaps the problem is that for a long time Australian theatre struggled with subtext, or should I say the transplanted British theatre struggled with what lies beneath the text. The convicts brought with them the melodrama and from this point so much of Australian theatre, and then television and film, tended to be plot driven and tended toward the melodramatic. Now it seems that we have all ‘got’ character, and understand subtext to the point where it has overtaken the text. Subtext is layered onto symbol and squashed up against metaphor and wrapped in analogy so it becomes difficult to pick the story from this collage.
Andrews is the king of this style of collage and Gross und Klein certainly has this in measures, but again it is absolutely saved by the performances. Cate Blanchett plays the lead role of Lotte and is the one link between the vignettes. The whole show is a search for belonging and we follow Lotte as she tries to hold it all together.
Blanchett’s comedic timing is superb and right from the beginning she has the audience on a leash leading them from discovery to discovery. I kept thinking about how great she would be doing sitcom and that if they needed a player for an I Love Lucy biopic she would be perfect. Everything she does becomes high art.
She is roundly supported by a rather large cast and I will name them all here as they contained the structure of the piece so beautifully even without enough to run with. Lynette Curran, Anita Hegh, Belinda McClory, Josh McConville, Robert Menzies, Katrina Milosevic, Yalin Ozucelik, Richard Piper, Richard Pyros, Sophie Ross, Chris Ryan, Christopher Stollery and Martin Vaughan all weave their way through Lottes life and are a stunning ensemble cast. A stand out within this cast is Anita Hegh who always performs with such understatement and such clarity you almost forget who she is, so engulfed she becomes in the character. She always seems to perform so effortlessly and energetically. Hegh is a much underrated actor who, hopefully, will be one day seen on par with the Cates of the Australian theatre scene.
The end result is of a beautiful work that was restricted only by the restraints put on the cast in aid of layering the piece with extra symbol and extra subtext. The images created by the set were beautiful and could have been utilized more fully if there were less of them, or they weren’t used with music and movement and the falling paper spirals. The same with this stunning cast. If they were able to breathe and run free, not responsible for the set and entering and exiting continuously for the short scenes that could have flowed like a river without the layering of elements, then the play may have felt whole. It is so good to see a play like this attempted by the STC and is worth the price of admission for the performances alone.