Nick Payne’s Constellations centres around the concept of ‘multiverse’ theory, the idea there is an infinite set of possible universes, including the universe in which we live. This is merely a scaffold upon which we see and feel the relationship between Marianne and Roland: as lovers, as friends, as fiancés, as exes, as their last loves. Each scene would be played out multiple times with various endings. There was something so real and human about this play. Every time the scene was done anew, it were as if another layer of complexity was added, both to the individual characters and to their relationship. As people, we like to think that we have a semblance of control over our lives, but Payne’s play makes us confront he uncomfortable idea that we don’t, and every action or un-action is an example of our cells being buffeted by our surroundings, and shaped to fit in with a law far beyond our ken.
The difficulty for the actors in this play is that their relationship slips and slides between time, from the flirty, awkward fun beginnings to the intense, brutal breakdowns and back. The repetitive nature of scenes could also make it somewhat jarring. Resilience and flexibility of style therefore is a necessity for both actors, and boy did they deliver. Kate Kitchens playing the role of Marianne was delightfully awkward, charming, funny and heartfelt, you could actually feel everyone in the audience falling in love with her too. She’s a dream to watch, with great comic timing, naturalism and such heart, it rendered the audience tear-stained and goosebump-ridden in the more heart-breaking moments.
Her partner in this journey was Jared playing Roland, who despite lacking some of the effortless naturalism that Kate breathed into every line, was well and truly a great match. In the more intense moments, he shined and the painful irony was not lost, in a man desperate to say the right thing, but never knowing how, to a woman inflicted with a stutter; they are both unable to communicate and both desperately wanting to.
Occasionally, it felt like the actors were moving around too much. The nature of the play, with lots of different and repeated scenes sometimes needed this visual aid as a signal for the audience, but sometimes the lighting cues were enough, and the movement felt a bit distracting. The best moments were the quiet, still ones. A particularly beautiful moment was one in which a conversation towards the end of their relationship was entirely played out in the darkness. At first, the audience felt quite awkward as if we’d all accidentally stumbled into a late night heart to heart. It was so intimate, not only listening to the actors, but I could hear the person next to me breathing, and responding. Once we’d ridden out the sense that we’d interrupted, it was one of the most spell bounding moments of theatre I’ve experienced.
Innovatively, the space was made to look like a planetarium, with strung navy material billowing across the ceiling and a hexagonal shaped stage. This shape was used in a scene with many different endings, and Roland and Marianne facing one another, moving one step around like the points of a compass. On every side, lines of people on chairs and cross-legged meant watching the play felt like a collective experience, watching one another watch the play too. This was one of the beauties of having it in the round.
In the opening the actors were already preset looking wistfully into the ether, with minimalist techno chords playing out. Jared took his time to begin the show, and we felt as if in The Stage, in 601 at 7.30pm we had been temporarily suspended from our every day life, and supplanted into that of Roland and Marianne. Meticulous attention to detail must be commended, the programmes had been turned into origami fortune tellers’, like you’d make as a kid. The idea of choices, and those choices influencing outcomes was already playing in the audience’s minds by the time the play began.
By the end of the play every member of the audience was surreptitiously trying to wipe away a tear, or muffle a sob with a cough. The hardest thing about this show is that by the end you’re rooting so badly for the universe in which their relationship survives, that despite the ambiguous ending, the audience attempts to grip onto that stubborn sense of control once again, and complete it with the picture they want. This need for agency would not have happened without a cast and director that made you feel and fall in love with the characters as they did with each other. I commend the entire team on creating such a special night. It shall be echoing around my head for days, I’m sure.