Playwright Nick Payne’s script scours both the earth and the universe with its content, combining the tiniest of insects’ purpose with thousands of multiverses filled with actions and choices that determine our existence. Payne’s work Constellations has reached London, Broadway, Canada, and made its way to Queensland for its most recent production with Queensland Theatre.
Constellations centres on the unexpected romance between an English couple who meet by chance at a barbeque. There are many possibilities for quantum physicist Marianne (Jessica Tovey) and beekeeper Roland (Lucas Stibbard), some are uncomfortable, others beautiful, but given the right day and the right choices, the couple open their hearts and their minds to one another to new ideas.
During their first date Marianne attempts to explain her work to Roland, telling him that they are a part of a multiverse, and that at any given moment several outcomes can coexist simultaneously. This concept defines the play’s structure and the exposition of the couple’s development through a simple and delicate dance of interactions and relationship scenarios, then replayed over and over with a new attitude, tone, conversation, or even connection each time.
While the work explores many variations of prominent relationship milestones – the first encounter sex after the first date, infidelity, break ups, marriage proposals to name a few – the script jumps around in a progression that strays from a linear plot. While most encounters or interactions are close to chronological, some jump back and fourth in time, leaving the audience to figure out the timeline or fill in the gaps. Regardless of the plot’s timeline, the most interesting aspect is variety when the individual scenarios iterate themselves multiple times.
While the repetition of each scene’s opening dialogue often became tedious to sit through, the creative team ensured that the work was engaging overall. Together, Stibbard and Tovey embrace the variety and kinesthetic energy that the script demands, Director Kat Henry is creative with the use of space, proximity and pace, and the range in length and depth of dialogue from writer Nick Payne all ensure the audience never disengage for more than a moment. The most interesting aspect of the repetition is not only the multiple directions that Roland and Marianne could be driven, but also that each encounter could be considered as a different couple with their own reactions and choices. Just as the scenes repeating themselves display a multitude of outcomes, the repetitive nature of the work encourages its interpretation to vary each time; it simply depends on how it is portrayed and absorbed.
While the direction and physicality was relatively simple within this production, the design team fills up the largely sparse space occupied only by two performers with lighting, sound and a jagged blue platform that holds all of the elements together. While Anthony Spinaze’s costume design is assimilative and realistic, his set design is all-encompassing and enriching to the work and its concept. A thick blue platform houses the dozens of universes through the performers’ playful darting from one triangle to the next for each repeated scene or new development. The platform doubles as a landscape that visually portrays lines not unlike connected dots in a starry night, eventuating into a pattern that resembles a honeycomb structure. The glowing lines from within stage itself fracture and expand throughout the piece to accompany plot development and display the couple as both individual minds and fused souls
Ben Hughes and Guy Webster’s respective lighting and sound design choices are more subtle and predictable approaches to layering the space. While Hughes chooses the predictable visual display of a rich cosmic projection from above, for the most part the simplistic rises and drops in lighting allows for sharp scene changes that graciously encourage focus onto the set and actors. Webster’s ominous tones that occasionally resemble an 80’s videogame work well for the atmosphere, while a soft and humble piano tune fills many of the gentler scene transitions. Overall these design elements fuse together the focal themes of science-meets-romance in a practical yet pleasant underlay.
While Payne’s work displays a repetition of interactions, the outcomes of the scenes, and subsequently the entire plot, are always unique, with a new shade of love, lust, frustration, confusion or bitterness explored insightfully each time. While this production forgoes its chance for discussion of more challenging themes such as power dynamics, loss and uncontrollable fate, the piece was entertaining and touching overall.
– Written by Rhumer Diball March 21st 2017
CONSTELLATIONS PRESENTED BY QUEENSLAND THEATRE .
9th Mar – 9th Apr