Pros: Imaginative and pretty set design that uses shape and light to lift us from dull to dreamy.
Cons: Temporal shifts and repetitive dialogue stunt any real character development.
A meringue of white balloons fill the upper half of the stage, hanging aloft like stars. They are firm, steadfast, but could just as easily drift away in their weightlessness. Constellations is beautiful to look at, and lit so delicately that the shapes on stage transform into the night sky, scattered with planets and far away objects. It’s like looking through a telescope and seeing dozens of galaxies – no doubt an image designed to provoke thoughts of all those alternate worlds that the playwright explores in his text. The floor of the stage is empty but for the two characters, who across the evening inhabit these other worlds – explore the choices not made, the decisions not taken.
For me the play’s bold structure, though interesting, was a barrier to the character journey. Repetitions of dialogue from interruptive scene to scene prevented the romantic relationship from developing into anything credible because it had no concrete past or present – it flittered between alternative universes. When dramatic things happened to the characters the result therefore was underwhelming and low impact. I wasn’t invested in them as a couple or as individuals because they didn’t really exist. Too many different versions of their conversations with one another, their reactions, and their actions conflicted in a way that some might find provocative but I found dulling.
So quick were the moves in script and on stage in fact, that the audience experience was comparable to watching an acting class. Louise Brealey and Joe Armstrong were exceptionally skilled in their performances; moving physically, vocally and intellectually in a mere instant across the dozens of miniature scenes within Nick Payne’s deviating dialogue. They did it this way; they did it that way, and then they did it that way again with a different expression, a minute adjustment. An exercise in acting might be impressive, but it doesn’t translate to an emotive experience for an audience member (well not a terribly old-fashioned one like me anyway – bloody love a linear narrative with a start, middle and end).
Had I seen the play in a different venue I might have found the relationship between physicist Marianne and beekeeper Roland more affecting. The movement in the play is choreographed to such perfection, and delivered with such military precision that it deserves an intimate space; so the audience can see every touch and mark every glance. Nevertheless I never regret a visit to Richmond Theatre as it’s one of architect Frank Matcham’s spectacular Victorian creations, and idyllically situated on the peripheries of Richmond Green. Shortly transferring to the Trafalgar Studios I think Constellations is heading towards a more suitable home: the set has such a delicate beauty to it, as does the movement between man and woman, that the smaller the space around this ever expanding force of stars the better. Too much distance between a gentle caress and it won’t feel the same.
Writer: Nick Payne
Director: Michael Longhurst
Producer: Royal Court Theatre
Booking Until: 27 June 2015 at Richmond Theatre. At Trafalgar Studios from 9 July 2015
Box Office: 0844 871 7651
Booking Link: http://www.royalcourttheatre.com/whats-on