DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

Constellations – Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Writer: Nick Payne

Director: Paul Robinson

Constellations, staged in 2012 and winner of the Evening Standard Best Play Award, was revived last year to rave reviews. It plays on the careers of the two protagonists, beekeeper and, more especially, astrophysicist. The play begins with a chance meeting replayed maybe five times with subtle variations of tone and ends with Marianne suffering from a benign tumour or terminal cancer or whatever else.

Nick Payne explores the many different paths that Marianne and Roland’s relationship could take. Each of them is a possibility; none of them is the definitive truth. The concept is challenging and clever – the many potential outcomes of our every action – but eventually one can’t help echoing Michael Billington in 2012 when he referred to his “uncertainty about whether this is the cleverest play in town or simply Love Story with extra physics.”

What is beyond dispute is the quality of the performances of Carla Harrison-Hodge and Emilio Iannucci under the direction of Paul Robinson. Required to play very similar scenes in tones of delight, doubt and disgust, they develop confusing story-lines. They part after one or another or both have sex with another partner, meet again at a dance class, possibly get married (a proposal scene based on the life of bees gets very different reactions from Marianne) and end up devoted to each other or Roland furious at Marianne’s secrecy about her illness.

The sudden changes from one universe to another, marked by Simon Slater’s brief, but dramatic, musical interventions, see Harrison-Hodge and Iannucci switching positions or striking poses in what must be a tiring 85 minutes for them. Equally challenging is the question of lines: initially they repeat pretty much the same lines with totally different expression, later, as it is becomes more complicated, the same line recurs maybe ten minutes after its original appearance – with variations! For once praise for actors’ memories seems a valid comment.

It’s almost impossible to assess the individual qualities of the characters, but Harrison-Hodge projects a winning charm whilst also revealing an intensity of temper in at least one of her characters. Iannucci, on the other hand, is less confident, more zany, but both can meet as kindred personalities or furiously distance themselves from each other.

In a simple set by TK Hay, imaginatively lit by Jane Lalljee – three wooden blocks to sit or stand on under the web of the universe – they play out the alternatives to (it must be admitted) a somewhat confused audience.

Runs until 12th November 2022.

The Reviews Hub Score

Clever, but confusing

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The Reviews Hub - Yorkshire & North East

The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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