If her BAFTA award-winning performance in the film Elizabeth didn t confirm your suspicions, this new Almeida production of David Hare s 1978 play Plenty, directed by Jonathan Kent, certainly will - Cate Blanchett is an outstanding acting talent.
Blanchett is Hare s anti-heroine Susan Traherne, who we first meet briefly in 1962 as she is preparing to leave her husband Raymond (Julian Wadham). The play backtracks over nearly two decades to reveal Susan as a captive to her adventurous past in the French resistance. For, though the war was won, for many, like Susan, who helped win it, peacetime turned out to be a straightjacket, totally lacking the plenty promised as well as the excitement and bravery of fighting the good fight.
Traherne s disillusionment with Britain and life in general deepens over the years as she struggles with and abandons various jobs, fails to have a baby, marries reliable old Raymond and sets about destroying his career in the Foreign Office. The rawness of Blanchett s performance makes you squirm in your seat. Impatient, intolerant, at turns fragile and then ferocious, her twitchy restlessness as Susan becomes increasingly hemmed in is almost contagious. Blanchett communicates it with every bit of her body, from the way she clutches her hands to the wobble in her walk, the glassiness of her stare and the way blood seems to drain from her cheeks as if on command. And she does a fine line in ‘losing control in the face of what she perceives as British hypcrisy. If Susan s mania results in your sympathies tipping in favour of her weary but ever loyal husband, it does nothing to diminish the power of Blanchett s portrayal.
Maria Bjornson s inspired set - which moves from continental Europe to Pimlico bohemia and Knightsbridge opulence - also ingenuously captures Susan s feelings of claustrophobia, each setting framed in boxes that shrink away like the dot on a television screen as the scene changes. Mark Henderson s lighting carries the mood as well, although a bit too darkly in certain scenes. Sure, Duncan Bell is supposed to be the shady figure from Susan s underground past, but it would be nice to be able to at least see his face when he s on stage.
Blanchett is also bolstered by a strong support cast, particularly Wadham, Richard Johnson as Raymond s old-school boss Sir Leonard who loses faith over the Suez Canal, and Debra Gillett as wild-child turned wise woman Alice.
Plenty opened at the Albery Theatre on 27 April 1999 (previews from 15 April) and continues until 10 July 1999.