Thursday 16 July 2015


Theatre review: Constellations at Trafalgar Studios

©Helen Maybanks

The stars were aligned for Constellations to return to its inception home town. After opening at the Royal Court Theatre more than three years ago, the play continued on to take first the West End and then Broadway by storm, before finally making a welcome return to the capital via a nationwide tour. For a mere 70-minute long two-hander about quantum physics this is no mean feat, and has earned playwright Nick Payne rightfully so the Evening Standard Award for Best Play.

Do you believe in the possibility of infinite universes,
each choice you make creating a new path and possible future?

Marianne (Sherlock's Louise Brealey), a quantum physicist, and Roland (Robin Hood's Joe Amstrong), an urban beekeeper, first meet on a rainy day at a barbecue. Again. And again. And again. On some occasions he is married and at other times he is just not interested in pursuing a relationship, but then there are the realities where despite Marianne's awkward attempt at flirting and her nearly incoherent bumbling about the improbability of a person licking their own elbows (unless they are immortal) the two strangers click and their story gets a continuation beyond that chance meeting.

Over the course of their relationship simple choices such as sleeping together on their first date, a weakening willpower leading to infidelity, or going for a drink after not having seen each other for a while, create an infinite range of possible futures; some in which Marianne and Roland stick together until the bitter end, others where their relationship runs its course far sooner due to a combination of different paths they take along the way. There is only one consistency in their story and that is that there is none.

For a play visualising the complicated topic of string theory it was surprisingly simple and straight-forward. The idea of the infinite realities could have easily been lost on the audience, particularly as there was just a little over an hour to get the message across in, yet Nick Payne managed to simplify the subject matter into a relatable and completely engaging piece of theatre that felt far more like a heart-rendering insight into a relationship between two people than it did one of the most difficult particles of physics.

In fact, the entire production was defined by a subtle simplicity, with the only change in set design being the dimming of the light to indicate a move from one reality to the next. The ethereal staging, comprised of little more than a ceiling covered in white balloons, added to the effectiveness of the play as it created a sole focus on the actors' capability to quite literally snap from one extreme emotion to another with the flick of a light switch. Stripping away any and all possible distractions it left a pure theatre masterclass by Brealey and Armstrong – and one that was a sheer delight to experience.

Constellations is running at Trafalgar Studios until 1 August 2015. You can book tickets here.

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