Cate Blanchett and Sydney Theatre Company have blitzed London's Barbican Theatre this week. Caroline McGinn reviews for Time Out London
Screen stars rarely radiate the same power and glamour in the flesh. And 1970s German studies of isolation and materialism are not usually conduits for uninhibited pleasure. But Cate Blanchett, surely the greatest actress of her generation, is even better live. And Botho Strauss's unfocused 1978 portrait of one woman's erotic, platonic, romantic and ideological misadventures, though it's no 'Queen Lear', does offer a plum post-modern role in Lotte, an ordinary Sheila, a dirty angel, and other dreamy versions of a woman who doesn't quite fit in the world.
Benedict Andrews's super-stylish production treats Strauss's ten-scene critique of social alienation like a high-concept catwalk. Artfully rumpled in her petal-pink skirt and blouse, Blanchett's Lotte does broken relationships in the high Berlin style - i.e like a scratched and bloodied rose at the centre of a delicate, lustrous visual palette created by designers Johannes Schütz and Alice Babidge.
Perspectives are oblique and props oddly sized; monologues happen in a phone box; bizarre ructions with Lotte's extended family of dentists in a pool of hot sunlight; and Lotte's Candide-like travails in a squat which is so chic that even the obese heroin user is Lucian Freud-beautiful. Martin Crimp's new translation, with its mobile phone-era updates, confirms the airbrushed avant-garde feel.
Blanchett begins the evening hitching her gusset up, half-pissed on beach cocktails, and ends it writhing in a gold spangled leotard, being sexually harassed by God. She passes every test with flying colours. This three-hour production is essentially a one woman show with a supporting cast of 13. Strauss's collage of vignettes don't make an enduring mental impact, but they are a beguiling showcase for an actress who is much more than merely beautiful.
The last time an Aussie movie queen visited the West End, in The Blue Room at the Donmar, one critic called Nicole Kidman's debut 'theatrical Viagra'. But Blanchett doesn't need to take her clothes off to make us fall in love with her. Often seen as remote or refined on-screen, on stage she is vital, intelligent, sensual, direct, and totally unafraid to take the piss out of herself.
Her tour de force performance with the Sydney Theatre Company, which she co-directs with her husband Andrew Upton, is a another sleek coup for the Barbican; whose UK premieres of sexy new work by Cheek By Jowl, Complicite and Thomas Ostermeier this season have showcased the very best European drama in London and helped our foremost importer of international theatre celebrate its thirtieth birthday with considerable flair.