Reviewed by Lia Cox
Every now and then, a simple but affecting play lands in my lap and it is my duty to ensure as many people as possible can experience the joy, power and preciousness of these works.
Constellations, is one such play.
Suppose that life exists in a multiverse - a set of parallel existences that contain infinitely different futures. The possibilities in our lives are, quite literally, endless. Every possible event that could happen, does happen, in one universe or another. And if two people meet - are drawn together in every version of existence - every possible happy ending and heartbreak that could transpire, will.
Marianne, a physicist, and Roland, a beekeeper, meet at a barbeque. They hit it off and go for a drink. Or maybe they don’t. They go home together, or possibly they go their separate ways. Perhaps Marianne is engaged to someone else, perhaps Roland is. Maybe she breaks his heart, maybe he breaks hers. Possibly they come together and their love story can finally be cemented and develop, or perhaps it will be tragically cut short.
British playwright Nick Payne’s beautiful play, Constellations, explores how even the smallest change in our lives can dramatically alter the course we take. It is a captivating exploration of love, science, quantum theory, and infinite possibility for heartbreak or for hope.
Marianne often waxes poetic about cosmology, quantum mechanics, string theory and the belief that there are multiple universes that pull peoples lives in various directions. This is reflected in the play’s structure as scenes are repeated, often with different outcomes.
Each scene progresses further each time, with more detail, before the chiming clock, a reminder of the precariousness of time, and blackouts take us back. A very sliding doors motif.
The play is in unchronological order. Conversations splinter off into different variations, with minor changes in tone and dialogue.
I was especially intrigued by this, as the various semantics, articulations and emphasis on the same words prove the consequences could be interpreted so differently each and every time.
As an audience member we had to piece together meanings, descramble non-linear timelines and expose the essence of jumbled conversations, providing truly engaging theatre.
This production is the first time the play has been performed in Adelaide, and by adding some local suburbs into the dialogue, makes it feel very regional and personal.
STARC Productions have traditionally chosen to produce plays that focus on the journey of the human relationship – a journey of discovery, connection, acceptance, transformation and authenticity.
There are some incredible scenes; from poignant to argumentative, to idealistic and discontented. All changing tone within a flash.
Marc Clement as Roland has a challenging role to play; as in some scenes he is physically and mentally abusive toward Marianne, and this energy can carry over to the audience in alternate Rolands. It is to Clement’s credit that he was able to win us back in scenes where he chooses self-discipline and responsibility.
With Stefanie Rossi’s interpretation of Marianne we see the sometimes lively, sometimes condescending but altogether modern woman with choices that often lead to heartbreak. Her contrasting moments of fiercely intelligent academic and the stumbling, struggling wreck she becomes is extremely impacting.
The remarkable scene where both actors are using Auslan to communicate, was both heart-warming and heartbreaking.
This real-life couple have the edge for comedy, tragedy and pace and invoke instant chemistry, bringing out the laughs and switching cleanly between moods.
Stephen Dean’s lighting and sound design creates the tense, gripping atmosphere of a thriller, with buzzes of light, sound and the ticking time bomb of a clock.
Testimony to Tony Knight’s direction is that the play feels alive with pulsating action, but is balanced with stillness and strength.
A short two week season, at the legendary Bakehouse Theatre, this really a fine piece of theatre. Cosmically brilliant.