"Constellations" review - vaudeville theatre
Yesterday, ETC went to the theatre for the first time in almost a year and a half. After three long and difficult lockdowns, theatre is back, and ETC jumped at the chance to go and see “Constellations” by Nick Payne, performed at the Vaudeville Theatre in London.
The play, which sees the relationship of quantum cosmologist Marianne and bee keeper Roland play out across multiple parallel universes, is one of our favourites, as we performed our own version back in December 2019. It was especially interesting to see a play which we knew so well performed by professional actors, and the meal afterwards was filled with comparisons with our piece, as well as conversations surrounding aspects of the play which we hadn’t considered before.
The cast, which consists of just two actors, rotates between four different couples, Sheila Atim and Ivanno Jeremiah, Peter Capaldi and Zoë Wanamaker, Omari Douglas and Russell Tovey, and Anna Maxwell Martin and Chris O’Dowd. Each couple brings a different version of the characters, whether that’s a different race, age or gender. All very appropriate for a play whose central conceit is about multiple realities!
The version that we saw was performed by Capaldi and Wanamaker. At times extremely funny, at other times incredibly moving, the play moved along at such a breakneck pace that at the end of the 70 minute piece it felt as though the lights had just gone down. Capaldi was hilariously awkward, as Roland tries to understand the complex nature of quantum mechanics and the (perhaps even more complex nature) of romantic relationships. Wanamaker’s Marianne is much more to-the-point, and the clash of personalities helps to make the relationship between the characters all the more believable. From the moment they first appeared on the stage, the audience found themselves rooting for the characters - which makes the ending even more upsetting.
Capaldi and Wanamaker are both established actors, so the fact that they seemed to handle this incredibly complicated piece with such ease should come as no surprise. We felt, however, that certain scenes lacked the emotional beats that they should have carried, particularly towards the end, where the two characters’ standoffish nature seemed to result in some parts feeling incredibly cold when they should have had us moved to tears.
The stage and lighting design should also get a mention - from the honeycomb stage to the balloons which blinked and flashed between “universes”, everything seemed to tie in with the text of the play. As we watched, Chris came up with a theory that the flashing balloons represented the synapses in the brain, sending messages between each other as different decisions led to different realities. When Marianne finds out that she has a terminal illness, the balloons start to fall, representing her brain cells beginning to decay. Was this what the director Michael Longhurst intended when he drew up his stage design? Who knows - but, after a year and a half, it was nice to be sat in a theatre with friends, theorising over different theatrical interpretations.
“Constellations” by Nick Payne plays at the Vaudeville Theatre until 12th September.
Tom Morley, July 2021