Constellations – Gate Theatre – Review
Constellations by Nick Payne runs until Thursday, June 2nd 2022
“In the quantum multiverse, every choice, every decision you’ve ever and never made exists in an unimaginably vast ensemble of parallel universes.”
We first meet Marianne (Sarah Morris) and Roland (Brian Gleeson) at a barbecue in Dublin. Marianne makes a playful comment on why humans can’t lick their elbows. It’s a throwaway remark aimed at breaking the ice in an awkward social setting. Roland immediately cuts her dead with a response that he’s already in a relationship! The stage then goes dark and we see the same scene played out in a number of different iterations, with all sorts of responses from Roland, moving from his initial blunt response to friendly and welcoming words. The play moves on in this fashion, with a small number of scenes played from a variety of perspectives.
The two individuals are quite different with Roland working as a beekeeper, and Marianne, a physicist lecturing in UCD. Marianne talks of quantum mechanics, string theory and the possibility of the multiverse. The play gives us a view into a number of different worlds, where their chance meeting went in a different direction, along with their subsequent lives. In truth, this is an often-used device, but what differentiates this text from Sliding Doors or Groundhog Day is the gravity of what is being discussed.
This is a two-hander written by English playwright Nick Payne that premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in January 2012. The play went on to win a multitude of awards and was nominated for several Oliviers. It has been produced on Broadway and travelled around the world.
While Brian Gleeson will be known to most, if not for his familial connections, for his roles in Love/Hate and Peaky Blinders. Sarah Morris is possibly less well known but won Best Actress in the 2019 Irish Times Theatre Award for her role in Anu’s The Lost O’Casey. It is an unusual text, with the actors often having to deliver the same lines with different intonations. The changes are subtle, requiring a nuanced performance that is quite demanding of the actors and they are well-matched in this constantly evolving piece.
The set by Molly O’Cathain fixes the production in a mirror ball of reflective surfaces, with numerous chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, along with mirrors and other shiny surfaces. The lighting by Paul Keogan plays off this to great effect.
This production has grounded the piece in Dublin, with perfectly placed mentions of Donnybrook Fair and other locations around the city. It is surprising how these few small changes to the text give the work a sense of place beyond the original.
Initially, the repetition of the text can feel quite grating and it is hard to see the point of it, but as it builds towards its climax much of this becomes clear. The piece shows how our lives are governed by chance with so much dependent on being in the right place at the right time. We see these two characters flung in a multitude of different directions at the whim of the Gods or science, whichever we choose to believe in. This is no conventional romantic comedy and it shows that our lives do not always go as planned. This is a rich piece of writing and the impressive cast captures its subtitles, with these two lives built on shifting sands.
Directed by: Marc Atkinson Borrull
Set and Costume Design: Molly O’Cathain
Lighting Design: Paul Keogan
Sound Design: Kevin Gleeson
Movement Director: Liz Roche
Marianne: Sarah Morris
Roland: Brian Gleeson