The advertising for Constellations makes one think it is an adaptation of a Mills & Boon novel: “One relationship. Infinite possibilities.” Fortunately (or unfortunately, dependent on what you prefer) it is very far removed from that. This one-act two-hander wastes no time in exploring complex topics, discussing immortality within the very first sentence.
Roland (Joe Armstrong), a beekeeper from somewhere within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, meets Marianne (Louise Brealey), a physics academic at the University of Sussex. And boy, it is a tight play, looking at quantum mechanics, beekeeping, time, brain tumours, infidelity, British Sign Language, euthanasia and love, in less than half the time that some other plays take to explore less than half these areas.
The motion picture Sliding Doors looked at the idea of a parallel universe, where one path or the other determined the quality of life of its central character. Constellations goes much further than this. Imagine an indeterminate number of parallel universes – what Marianne calls living in a “multiverse” – where two people are having a similar conversation, but with different outcomes, dependent on how much is explained in the conversation, and more particularly how what is said is said, and consequently how it is interpreted by the other person.
I offer an example from outside the play so not as to give too much of the plot details away. If I shout, “Oi! Move!” at someone across the road, I might have saved that person from being run over by an oncoming articulated lorry. If I shout, “Oi! Move!” at someone who just happens to have a slower walking speed than me, I might be considered to be unnecessarily unpleasant. But if I shout, “Oi! Move!” at a close friend, I might be jesting, or engaging in banter. That is the sort of thing that this play does – it explores the same phrases and sentences used in different circumstances (universes, even) – that take on a very different meaning they are spoken suggestively, softly, aggressively, irrationally, and so on.
Both actors are thoroughly engaging from the off. I found myself so absorbed in the proceedings that I had completely forgotten that I was even watching a show – always a good sign. The play’s proceedings are not necessarily in chronological order, either. Many plays that attempt a non-chronological presentation of events change scenes so many times that it becomes wearisome and disjointed. Not here: the show flows very well indeed. There are moments of hilarity aplenty whenever an awkward pause in the conversation arises, or when either character doggedly insists on finishing whatever it is they are saying even though the other person is clearly distressed or otherwise not really listening.
It’s clearly a very well-researched script, even if the script itself contains a lot of everyday language instead of formal phraseology (aside from a discussion of molecular physics) – there is not much worth quoting verbatim. For example: “Yeah, no, I mean, good, yeah.” It fails to lecture or preach through its informal approach, but rather leaves its audiences questioning for themselves the way in which they speak to people, the way in which they interpret what others say, and the way in which they approach life overall.
This is a play that provides much material for discussion afterwards, and is philosophical and humorous, broad as well as deep, and repetitive yet intriguing. It is, put simply, a paradox, and a first-class production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Constellations is a play about theoretical physics – It’s a play about quantum mechanics, about cosmology. But it’s also a play about bees, and about beekeeping – Constellations is a play about honey; about saying no to Tesco when they offer you a lot of money. It’s a play about death, about dying. Constellations is also about preparing a romantic marriage proposal for someone you love – It’s about ballroom dancing – Specifically, Constellations is a play about the Box Step. It’s about finding cosmology sexy. It’s about small talk and big ideas. It’s about saying goodbye. Constellations is a play about never having to say goodbye.
Running Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Age Restrictions: Ages 14+
Show Opened: 9th July 2015
Booking Until: 31st July 2015
Important Info: There is no interval. Latecomers will not be admitted until a suitable break in the performance.
Evenings: Monday – Saturday 7.30pm
Matinees: Thursday and Saturday 3.00pm
Tuesday 14th July 2015