Written in the Stars: Review of Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s Constellations
Nick Payne’s Constellations (2012) is a play about science with a whole lot of heart. The story opens with a simple premise: Marianne and Roland have a chance encounter at a BBQ and begin a relationship. He is an urban beekeeper, she a cosmologist. Early on Marianne gives us a quick rundown of String Theory: one of the current contenders for a Theory of Everything, i.e. a mathematic explanation that reconciles the differences between General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. But that is all by the by. As Marianne explains, one of the off-shots of String Theory is that of the multiverse, where every possible outcome to every situation exists simultaneously at all times.
Payne’s play dramatizes this theory. We watch as Roland and Marianne, meet in the same situation, only to see it play out to several totally different outcomes. Sometimes, they get together, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they cheat on each other, and sometimes they stay together. The effect is almost the dramatic equivalent of cubist paintings: all of these different temporal possibilities collapse down into each other, and we are presented with a collage of moments, all seeming to simultaneously exist, without a past or future.
This idea, in presentation, could have become very cold, so it is a testament, not only to Payne, but also to director Anthony Skuse and actors, Sam O’Sulivan and Emma Palmer, that the play is actually imbued with a great level of warmth. We are made to feel deeply for the trials the characters face and for their apparent inability to take control of their lives when the mathematics wills their destiny into other places.
Sam O’Sulivan plays Roland, a laid back, simple sort of guy, who works as a beekeeper. Upon the plays opening, boy meets girl (several times). Emma Palmer plays the quirky Marianne, a warm, earnest and highly intelligent woman who works at Sussex University teaching quantum cosmology. In a word, both performers are excellent. O’Sulivan exudes quiet strength whereas Palmer works the script effortlessly, milking every last drop of character from the words.
They share a flawless chemistry – both sexually and romantically. It is a great study in the actors’ craft. Each character is well crafted and highly nuanced; stage technique is beautifully polished. It is difficult to pull off multiple scenes in high rotation, which feature little variation. Confidently, however, they manage every sequence. It was a further delight to see them play a scene in Auslan. Veritably, the piece would crumble without Palmer and O’Sulivan at the helm.
Whilst this is quite a clever and touching play which presents in a unique way, it does run the risk of there being a ‘so what’ factor. The theory is well explained and utilized, but as its depiction of reality is so far removed from what we can ever experience, it never quite manages to connect why this representation is pertinent to the way we live. Regardless, on the originality of its presentation and the strength of its performers this production is well worth a watch.
Constellations is being presented by the Darlinghurst Theatre Company at the Eternity Playhouse until the 7th of September.
For more information see: http://www.darlinghursttheatre.com/