CATE Blanchett makes no bones about it. Returning to a theatre rehearsal room when you have a young baby is hard.

She and husband Andrew Upton adopted baby Edith from the US earlier this year and have said that they and their three sons are “besotted”.

But as everyone knows, caring for a baby is tiring.

“I feel a bit sleep-deprived,” admits Blanchett.

“But you have to work with whatever state you’re in and turn it in to a positive. Sometimes, it can be good to be a bit tired in a rehearsal room because your defences are down, your guard is down.”

Blanchett is about to co-star with Richard Roxburgh in The Present, adapted by Upton from Anton Chekhov’s sprawling first play Platonov, and playing at the Roslyn Packer Theatre from August 4.

Blanchett and Roxburgh also performed together in Upton’s 2010 adaptation of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, wowing audiences and critics alike in Sydney, Washington and New York.

As you’d expect, their reunion has made The Present one of the hottest tickets in the Sydney Theatre Company’s 2015 season.

The rest of the 13-strong ensemble is pretty extraordinary too, among them Jacqueline McKenzie, Toby Schmitz (back from filming the TV series Black Sails in South Africa), Wonderland’s Anna Bamford, Chris Ryan from King Kong, and Susan Prior who recently won an AACTA Award for The Rover.

“It’s a great bunch,” Blanchett say

McKenzie agrees: “It is an incredible cast. Looking around the table and listening to the voices when we were doing our first read-through, it was just absolutely stunning,

“But if you had seen (Blanchett and Roxburgh in) Uncle Vanya and their amazing chemistry and work together, as an actor you want to be a part of that. So that’s really how you can collect such an amazing group of people because we all want to be in amongst it. It’s Andrew’s writing too. He’s an extraordinary adaptor.

“So you’ve got Chekhov, you’ve got Upton, you’ve got the Rox and you’ve got the Blanchett — and then you’ll get anyone.”

Roxburgh plays the central character of Platonov. Considered a great intellectual as a young man, he is now a disillusioned provincial schoolteacher though still something of a Lothario.

Blanchett plays Anna Petrovna, the widow of a much older General and a soulmate of Platonov’s, while McKenzie plays one of his former flames, now married to Anna Petrovna’s stepson.

Set in a country summerhouse where a group of old friends gather for Anna Petrovna’s 40th birthday, it is awash with yearning, shattered dreams and vodka.

Upton has updated it from the late 19th century to mid-1990s, post-perestroika Russia, and has the characters in their 40s rather than their 20s as in the original.

“What I like about the updating is that when Chekhov was writing there was the sense of Russia in transition but it was quite a dangerous time politically and morally. Setting it in the mid 1990s, Russian is once again in that similar state of transition. With the wisdom of hindsight you see that there was a real chance for change,” says Blanchett.

“What is beautiful about it is that it really mirrors the state the characters are in. There’s still that opportunity to change. When you’re in your 40s, as we know, life’s not over.”

“It becomes so much more make and break than in your 20s when you’ve got the whole world laid out in front of you,” says McKenzie.

“It’s people in extremes,” says Roxburgh.

“Things unfold that push people to their various breaking points and that can be terrible and hilariously funny. I was rolling about laughing when I read it, which is not what you expect when you read an adaptation of Chekhov. But it’s never silly. It really feels like Chekhov, but not as you’ve ever got him.”

Widely regarded internationally as one of the finest stage actresses of her generation, we have been lucky to see Blanchett in several plays at STC in recent years.

With the family relocating to the US when Upton’s contract as STC artistic director terminates at the end of this year, this could be the last time we see her on a Sydney stage for a while.

A final limited release of tickets for The Present will go on sale to the public at 9am on Thursday. [Source]

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