Acting in “Constellations” (our upcoming show, written by Nick Payne) is not easy. In fact, playing Roland is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. This is because Roland’s character is not consistent – his character doesn’t go on an emotional journey, he doesn’t develop as the play continues.
“Constellations” is set across multiple parallel worlds. That basically means that throughout the play we see the same scenes featuring Roland and Marianne played out in very different ways. And that means that the Roland we see in Scene 1 is not the same as the Roland we see in Scene 2 is not the same as the Roland we see in Scene 3… you get the idea.
Fundamentally, they are the same person. They’re the same age. They look the same. They sound the same. They’re wearing the same clothes. But each different version of Roland that we see has experienced different things, lived different lives, and that has led him to behave in very different ways.
Which is why, in some scenes, Roland is very laid back and quiet, in others he is loud and abrasive, in others he is overly emotional. But how can I, as an actor, portray all these different sides to Roland, whilst still making him seem like one cohesive character?
It’s difficult, and it’s taken a lot of work. Certain things in each “universe” have to be constant. One of those constant things is his feelings for Marianne. Whether he’s shouting at her, or kissing her, or barely speaking to her, in all of these scenes, he is in love with her, and that has to be clear throughout every single situation we see this couple in.
Rhian and I have had a lot of fun putting Roland and Marianne’s relationship to the test in all of these different scenes. The script gives us a lot of freedom, the text only differing very slightly from scene to scene, and the decision really being up to us (and our director Luke) on what makes this version of Roland and Marianne different from the others.
We hope that the audience have as much fun watching “Constellations” as we’re having in rehearsals. Everyone asks the question “what if I’d done this differently” at some point in their lives, right? With “Constellations”, we actually get to answer that question. What if Marianne didn’t ask Roland out on a date? What if Roland didn’t have an affair? What if Marianne turned Roland’s proposal down?
A major worry is that watching the same scene over and over will get tedious for the audience. But with the changes we make (no matter how small), this makes for a very interesting and unique style of theatre. It almost turns the entire show into one big game of “Spot the Difference”.
So, unlike other plays where the consistency of character is key (just think about the emotional journey that Paula’s Mrs Alving went through during “Ghosts”), with “Constellations” it’s about the inconsistency of character. Making every Roland different enough to keep the play interesting and engaging, whilst making sure that each version is similar enough to be recognisable. It’s a difficult balance to get right, and it’s taking a lot of work, but with just over a month to go until the show, I think we’re finally getting somewhere. I’m so excited for you all to see what we’ve done.
“Constellations” plays at the John Godber Centre in Hucknall on 6th and 8th December. Tickets can be bought at www.seaty.co.uk/constellations.
Tom Morley, October 2019