Duke of York's Theatre, London WC2
Thanks to the Royal Court, the musical-dominated West End has seen a surge of cracking plays. And none is better than Nick Payne’s ingeniously constructed love story that poleaxes the emotions as much as it stimulates the mind.
The notion that a story, or a life, has alternative possibilities is certainly not new. But, here, Payne eloquently explores the very serious theory proposed by some physicists that multiple universes exist and that, within each of them, events are played with either slightly or profoundly different consequences to those experienced in our world.
Payne’s hero and heroine are physicist Marianne (Sally Hawkins) and beekeeper Roland (Rafe Spall), whose relationship we follow from the moment they meet at a barbecue.
Michael Longhurst’s superb production jumps between the different accounts of Marianne and Roland’s affair, while allowing the main thrust of their story to emerge.
Hawkins and Spall deliver two of the best performances I have seen this year.
The actors deliver slightly tweaked versions of their characters, with Hawkins fine-tuning Marianne’s gaucheness and Spall exploring the nuances of Roland’s affability.
It is a minor — no, major — miracle that all this can be explored in 70 uninterrupted minutes with such clarity, and such tenderness. (www. duke-of-yorks.official-theatre.co.uk)