Monday, November 19, 2012

Constellations, Duke of York's Theatre

Nick Payne’s delicate, searching play - the third Royal Court production to transfer to the West End after Posh and Jumpy - has a fractal quality. Its central love story is a splintered thing in which several possible worlds co-exist, with small and not so small details changing from scene to scene as a couple, Roland and Marianne, meet, engage in awkward flirtation, marry and then face up to the awful fact that their time together will be shorter than they had hoped.

Payne’s play is rich with ideas, about love and loss, time and its passing, the illusion of free will, themes which are echoed in the characters’ professions - he is a bee keeper, she is a quantum physicist. But what could have been merely clinical, an intellectual exercise, is made humane and moving by the wit and intelligence of the writing and the warm, nuanced performances of Rafe Spall and Sally Hawkins, as two people clinging to one another in the face of an impossible wave. Each iteration of the couple’s relationship, each small scenic shift, is subtly evoked, their timing exquisite.

Designer Tom Scutt canopies the stage with white balloons which light up with each new variation, a synaptic flickering which becomes more intense as Marianne’s mind starts to shut down, a process of aphasic unravelling.

Running at barely over an hour, it’s almost too short to do full justice to its own set-up and there are times when the play’s multiverse structure seems to fight with, rather than enhance, its emotional trajectory. But when it hits home, it hits hard.

Reviewed for The Stage

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