CONSTELLATIONS by Nick Payne Joe Armstrong as Roland and Louise Brealey as Marianne © Helen Maybanks
Nick Payne's play Constellations is many things. It is a love story, it's a life story and a death story. It's a story about free-will versus predestination:
"We have all the time we've always had. You'll still have all our time."
Marianne (Louise Brealey) is a cosmologist who believes that all the possible choices we can make in our lives are being played out in parallel. Roland (Joe Armstrong) is a beekeeper and isn't quite so convinced. The two meet at a barbeque and Payne has Marianne and Roland play out several different scenarios to their opening encounter. Marianne is chatty, perhaps flirtatious and Roland responds in different ways sometimes he rebuffs, sometimes he's uncomfortable by the attention, sometimes he responds and so on. A blink of light 'resets' the scene each time.
It is a device that continues throughout the play; a decision made in moment and a path is formed but what of the other paths had Marianne or Roland chosen or reacted differently? And so we follow Marianne and Roland's relationship or not as the case may be.
And it's a clever device. Of course there is the notion of predestination but also it allows us to see a spectrum of subtleties in Marianne and Roland's personalities and in doing that shows individuality and humanity. Marianne can be confident, confused, insecure, awkward, contrary, controlling and many other things as can Roland.
As their stories progress things take a darker turn and the notion of predestination and choice takes on a different focus as a potential terminal illness looms. The idea that time is allotted can be both a comfort, deeply saddening and a terror.
The skill in the performances isn't just in the quick changes, nuances in delivery and script but is in always having a sense of Marianne and Roland's personalities throughout. You always believe it is the same people or rather shades of the same people.
I saw Nick Payne's Constellations when it first opened upstairs at Royal Court in 2012 and then again when it transferred to the West End and seems that even though certain variables change I have no choice but to love and admire this play all over again.
Constellations packs a powerful punch in its 70 minutes running time, go and see it at the Trafalgar Studios where it is on until 1 August it's a five star play.
PS Lovely to see fellow Sherlock colleague Benedict Cumberbatch supporting Louise Brearley in the audience on press night.
Sherlock/Andrew Scott is the obvious connection but there is another via Louise Brearley. She was in The Government Inspector at the Young Vic with Julian Barratt who was in Nathan Barley with Mr W.