Not so much a typical tale of romance, Nick Payne’s Constellations is a boy-meets-girl two-hander that explores the infinite outcomes of a relationship. A meeting, an intimate night, a betrayal, a reunion, a parting. The audience is constantly challenged to imagine every potential result of the situations presented while the battling forces of free will and destiny are called into question.
The audience starts off where the couple does; a chance meeting at a barbecue filled with awkward tension and joyous delight in equal parts. Marianne (Bella Hornby), a giddy Cambridge astrophysicist, uses a range of methods in each multiverse to approach heart-on-sleeve-wearing beekeeper Roland (Louis Dunbavin), resulting in varying degrees of success. Throughout the rest of the play, we experience the pendulum of extreme highs and lows within the couple’s relationship; the significance of choice, fate and chance are put into question as the audience are driven into an exhilaratingly topsy-turvy 70 minutes of ballroom dancing, bee colonies and alternate realities.
A change in wording, tone or gesture can signal a change in universe for seemingly identical scenes which challenged the actors skills of subtlety. However, Hornby and Dunbavin avoided the pitfall of monotony when repeating scenes, by switching masterfully between moments of deep solemnity and warm humour. The blending of severity and affinity are balanced well throughout, particularly by Hornby when her character finds out she has a terminal brain tumour. What’s more, the impact of the scene seems to intensify when impressively re-run in sign language. Although physics forms the core of the play, it is the chemistry between Hornby and Dunbavin that truly shines.
Director Sophie Drake also ensures that the focus of her production is not stifled by the complexity of multiverse theory but is propelled by the raw vigour of human emotion. The stage’s bare-bones set – solely consisting of a backdrop of astral lights and a floor of minimalistic LED honeycomb hexagons, marrying the couple’s professions, sets the focus of the audience on the action. Furthermore, the use of elements of physical theatre, although occasionally overstated, offer smooth transitions between the parallel timelines while still working well as a symbol of the couple’s nuanced emotional state.
It is entirely possible that, in another universe, the non-linear narrative of the play could be too difficult for LUU Theatre Group to pull off, potentially resulting in a very confused audience. But, at this point in space and time, it looks like the stars have aligned.
(Image courtesy of LUU Theatre Group)