by Nick Payne.
Royal Court Theatre (Jerwood Theatre Upstairs) Sloane Square SW1W 8AS To 1 February 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Thu, Sat 3.30pm (all performances sold out)
Runs 1hr 5min No interval,
TICKETS 020 7565 -5000.
Review: Carole Woddis 20 January 20.
Many ways to be and, to bee.
Bees and quantum physics seem to go hand in hand these days. Charlotte Jones’s Humble Boy a decade ago employed a similar over-arching metaphor in a story about a disorderly family. Nick Payne’s two-hander, and second commission for the Royal Court (after Wanderlust), goes one better adding a further dimension to do with language and love. How we communicate these days seems to be quite as much Payne’s concern as the analogy of workers, drones and Queen Bees.
Taking a leaf out of German playwright Peter Handke’s book of repeating dialogue, Payne, locking into multiverse theories of infinite possibilities, sends his two protagonists – a young female cosmologist and a young male bee-keeper – round in circular patterns of potential life choices and mortality.
A sort of linear narrative does emerge – boy meets girl, they shack-up together and part – going slightly against the grain of a play that actually seeks to contradict the notion of linear Time. Sally Hawkins’ Marianne tells Rafe Spall’s Roland: “Time is irrelevant at the level of atoms and molecules.” On another occasion: “In the quantum multiverse, every choice, every decision you’ve ever made and never made exists in an unimaginably vast ensemble of parallel universes.” At the end of the day, she tries to persuade him that is what we are. Particles flying through space and time.
It’s a heady notion. And Payne cleverly dilutes esoteric theories of physics with a moving personal element, in the process revealing his impressive capacity to juggle many balls simultaneously in the air.
If occasionally the repetitive nature of the dialogue comes to resemble a drama school exercise – lines are repeated in a variety of ways according to the possible direction Marianne and Roland’s relationship is turning – it nonetheless offers Hawkins and Spall an opportunity to show off their acting skills, which they grab with both hands.
Michael Longhurst, too, confirms his status as one of our most exciting directors, giving Constellations, in Tom Scutt’s balloon filled, simple raised stage square, a dark, skudding tautness and discipline.
Hawkins, nervy and quirky is perfectly complemented by Spall’s shirt-sleeved quiet, compassionate blokiness.
Marianne: Sally Hawkins.
Roland: Rafe Spall.
Director: Michael Longhurst.
Designer: Tom Scutt.
Lighting: Lee Curran.
Sound: David McSeveney.
Composer: Simon Slater.
BSLBT Consultant: Daryl Jackson.
Assistant director: Sam Caird.
Constellations was first performed at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs on 13 January 2012 and is part of the Royal Court’s Jerwood New Playwrights programme, supported by the Jerwood Charitable Foundation.