Thursday, 2 July 2015

Constellations, by Nick Payne, touring and then the West End; reviewed by Ian Oakley

Constellations is a product of the Royal Court, so for a start you know you are not going to get a Noel Coward play-like experience at the theatre.

Constellations is also one of the most lauded new plays to come out of the Royal Court in years, premièring in 2012. When I sat down to watch the play, I knew nothing about it, other than its rave reviews.

The play conforms to the Royal Court’s cutting edge reputation by being an experiment in form. It is a two hander, with a woman physicist, Marianne, and a man who is a beekeeper, Roland.

What makes it experimental is that scenes are repeated with different outcomes, whether it is the emphasis of the words or with different reactions.

The idea is explained in the play via the description of multiverses that Marianne provides. If this makes it sounds dry, then it should not; for all the experimentation in form, the relationship between the two characters is at the core of the drama and at times very moving.

The two actors in the production, Louise Brealey (best known for playing the lovelorn Molly in Sherlock) and Joe Armstrong, were both excellent, giving their characters real humanity and depth.

This is a good play, but I did not find it a great one.

I could see why the comparisons had been made to Tom Stoppard - the combination of beekeeping and high physics is just the type of thing you could imagine Stoppard exploring - but for me it was like a Tom Stoppard play that had not been completed.

The running time at only 70 minutes helped reinforce this impression of incompleteness. If the writer had been given more space, then I think he could have explored his characters over a two hour running time.

Of course, this might have been too conventional. It is sad to think that in the desire to please the critics and the ‘artistic community’, the audience and ultimately the work is sacrificed.

In saying all this it does not detract from a good play, well-acted, but I just think it could have been a great play.

I just hope Nick Payne goes on to more theatrical triumphs before he is no doubt lured away to television, if not ultimately Hollywood.

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