After taking over New York Nick Payne’s award winning Constellations returns to the UK for a short run at Trafalgar Studios and dazzles its audiences once more. There’s a reason this play has been called life-affirming and spectacular – it is not only an incredibly beautiful piece of honest, thought-provoking writing but a deep insight to relationships and the choices we make in life as well as a visual wonder. It’s a play that wraps itself around you and draws you in with such warmth and electricity that you find yourself strangely expanded mentally and emotionally throughout.
Marianne and Roland is a typical, if not slightly quirky and oddly matched couple in London, experiencing the ups and downs of life and being in a relationship. As an idea it seems terribly simple – but what Nick Payne’s play is really about is far deeper and mind-blowing than the realities of life. He toys with the idea of quantum mechanics, of strings of time running parallel with each other, in different universes existing simultaneously, offering us many different outcomes for the choices we make. Through his honest, human and very funny writing we explore Marianne and Roland’s relationship in many different versions and how a tiny detail can change everything.
The play questions how much choice we really have in our lives and if there is such thing as fate – how are our choices linked? What happens if we change a small thing? Would the outcome be different? Like the butterfly effect we are transported back and forth in time, exploring these different outcomes, slowly building the couple’s history and putting the little pieces of the huge puzzle of their lives together.
Joe Armstrong and Louise Brealey carry this enigmatic piece of theatre through with incredible intimacy and truth – though their chemistry is slightly odd and awkward they fit together beautifully somehow, in their own weird way, and they manage to portray a very realistic image of a couple. They keep control of the patchiness of the script and engage with it with such intensity and investment that we are quite heart-broken experiencing it with them. The performances are outstanding, real and never forced and we are just entranced by the choices they make throughout and where they will take us next.
Tom Scutt’s design supports the otherworldly touch to the play with elegance and flair with a simple set of white balloons that light up the beehive pattern on the floor, a note on Roland’s life as a beekeeper but also a hint that life is short and the choices we make do have an impact. The set is just plain magical and coupled with Lee Curran’s brilliant lighting design it just takes your breath away.
Director Michael Longhurst has used Payne’s beautiful script and transformed it into something beyond words, something that quite simply expands your mind – as a whole the performance feels like a bubble of life that’s wonderfully odd and real at the same time. It’s patchy and highly intelligent writing, and although it deals with very real issues of two people in love, it raises questions far beyond that – questions that make the cogs in your head shriek and your heart pound. This is a play that will stay with you for a while. If you haven’t got a ticket yet, go beg for one.
Constellations is playing at Trafalgar Studios until 1 August. For tickets and more information see the Royal Court Theatre website. Photo by Johan Persson.