Constellations at The Duke of Yorks
I was gutted to miss out on seeing Constellations during its run at The Royal Court, so was thrilled when I heard of its transfer to The West End. Everything I read about the play had a positive slant and, quite rightly, as it is excellent, due in no small way to the brilliant casting of Rafe Spall and Sally Hawkins playing Roland and Marianne.
The theme of the play, is a theoretical branch of physics that suggests we may actually be living in one of many universes which are co-existing simultaneously. Difficult to understand, yet alone portray on stage with just two actors. Yet, the playwright, Nick Payne, manages it and manages it extremely well. What seems mighty confusing at the beginning of the play gradually makes sense during the 70 minutes running time and, luckily for me, who found Physics quite a challenge at school, it’s not an over the top exploration of Quantum Theory and Quantum Mechanics.
Roland is an ordinary, diffident bloke making the rather extraordinary living of keeping bees, whilst Marianne is an irrepressible and effusive quantum physicist. They couldn’t be more different, but when they meet at a barbeque, the attraction is mutual and they start a relationship. At least they may do. In a parallel universe they meet and immediately part. And this is how the play moves forward. A scene is played, the lights flicker a bit, the action freezes and then the scene is repeated. Only this time their reactions change, different words are used and the outcome is slightly different. This happens at least once more before the story moves forward and the relationship between Roland and Marianne develops.
Hooked? On paper the repetitive nature of the play doesn’t sound terribly appealing but in reality it is wonderfully clever and extremely appealing. Due to the excellence of the two actors we the audience care about the outcome of their love affair. We want a happy ever after but are never sure if we get it. The play is humorous, sad, touching and thought provoking with the audience not only wondering how on earth “the actors remember their lines” but how they manage to cope with multiple versions of multiple scenes which only vary very slightly. They are nothing short of inspirational.
Michael Longhurst, the director, keeps everything tightly focused and expertly timed, whilst Tom Stutt’s design of white balloons, strings hanging down onto the bare space of the stage is as evocative as Simon Slater’s sound and Lee Curran’s lighting design.
Well worth the wait.