Life & Culture

Theatre review: Constellations

How good is Consellations? Depends if you have seen it before



★★★✩✩ If you’ve seen this play before

★★★★★ If you haven’t


T his review comes with a spoiler alert. Those who have not seen Nick Payne’s play should stop reading and buy a ticket. The following is for those who saw the original production a decade ago and are considering seeing it again.

This is because Constellations is one of those plays whose brilliance lies in its structure rather than what is said by or happens to its characters. Florian Zeller’s The Father (now also an Oscar winning film) is another.

The Constellations audience’s perspective is not as it seems. Marianne and Roland meet at a barbecue. Their banter is the beginning of a relationship. Or it isn’t, depending on which of the repeating scenes you happen to be watching. Each version belongs to a different universe and collectively they illustrate string theory, which quantum physicist Marianne spends her professional life researching.

This revival of Payne’s multiverse play is but one of multiple versions. Michael Longhurst’s production, which is taking up residency at the Vaudeville while the Donmar’s Covent Garden venue completes a revamp, is cast with four sets of actors. This performance starring Zoe Wanamaker and Peter Capaldi shares the stage alternately with The Underground Railroad star Sheila Atim and Ivanno Jeremiah. Later Omari Douglas and Russell Tovey take on the two-hander as do Anna Maxwell Martin and Chris O’Dowd.

The reason is partly to keep actors Covid-secure during the three-month run. But it is also all in step with multiverse theory. It is a concept that worms itself into the brain and expands the mind as in this show Wanamaker and Capaldi switch between different versions of the relationship between beekeeper and physicist who grapple with a life threatening event.

You see, explains Marianne, “In the quantum multiverse every choice, every decision you’ve made and never made exists in an unimaginably vast ensemble of parallel universes.” It’s the “never made” that gets me; the idea that there are as near as damn it infinite versions of ourselves, each incrementally or vastly more (or less) clever, content or wretched.

That Payne illustrates all this by presenting a few versions of a single relationship is a stunning achievement.

In this version Wanamaker and Capaldi expertly convey different moods and emotions in scenes with the same, similar or diverging dialogue.

However sometimes it feels as if their Marianne and Roland have hijacked words intended for a younger people. They probably were. Marianne’s icebreaker at the barbecue about the impossibility of licking one’s own elbows feels oddly age-inappropriate, or inaccurate.

But encountering the work again reveals the diminishing returns of a play that reveals its point through it structure. If you know what’s going on in advance, the sense of revelation is inevitably diminished.

But of course, on one level it doesn’t much matter whether you return to the play or not.

Because if Marianne is right there is another version of you who will make the opposite choice.


Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive