Constellations**** (New Victoria Theatre, Woking)

Posted: May 15, 2015 in Theatre



Nick Payne’s quirky, romantic not-quite-a-comedy was a big success at the Royal Court and in the West End in 2012 and more recently, on Broadway. It now looks very much like a modern classic and, in sending this re-cast production out on tour, perhaps the Royal Court is hoping to remind us that it was once capable of producing hits on its own, without collaborating with Headlong. In a nutshell, it is Groundhog Day meets Love Story, borrowing more than a little from Sliding Doors. If that sounds confusing, it is nothing compared to the notion of quantum cosmology, the science with which Payne tries to blind us and which is best left unexplained. Suffice to say that Marianne (Louise Brealey) works inputting data related to that science and the play charts her on/off relationship with a beekeeper, Roland (Joe Armstrong). Here, on/off means both on and off, as the couple play out several alternative versions of every situation which arises, answering the question “what would have happened if….?” at each junction in their lives, until they reach a barrier of fate which leaves few options open. The play begins with a naff chat up line and proceeds in similar vein, with seemingly inconsequential conversations gaining a ring of truth and substance as the story moves on, not always in a linear progression, taking two steps forwards and one step back. The play works so well because of its dizzying effect, rather than despite it, creating an outer-worldly feel which becomes captivating and very touching. Much credit for this goes to director Michael Longhurst’s light touch, Tom Scutt’s set consisting of helium-filled balloons and Lee Curran’s warm and glowing lighting. Another big plus is that, at 70 minutes, the play does not hang around long enough for it to become irritating. Big name stars have played the two roles previously, bringing the stamp of personality that comes from instant recognition. However, if this puts Brealey and Armstrong at a disadvantage, they do well in overcoming it, making a genuinely engaging couple and handling the regular changes in tone with great confidence. Quantum cosmology remains unfathomable, but this play speaks to the heart rather than the brain and, as such, it is a delight.

Performance Date: 14 May 2015

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