By Danielle Danaher, Second Year French and Spanish
‘Constellations’ written by Nick Payne, tells the story of beekeeper Roland and astrophysicist Marianne’s whirlwind relationship across an infinite number of parallel universes.
In one universe they meet once and never connect. In another they meet, but Roland has a wife. In an ideal universe, they meet and fall in love with each other’s awkward quirkiness. The play uses the butterfly effect to explore how one small decision or moment can have huge impacts on a complex system.
This production, produced by Cecelia Quant and directed by Kate Hunter and Holly Bancroft, stars two talented pairs of actors who play Marianne (Elsa Cleaver and Lily Walker) and Roland (Andrew Graham and Honey Hopkins) simultaneously in a symmetrical manner onstage.
The Pegg studio provides a perfect set for this parallel story to unfold, with a square stage in the middle of the room, the audience are seated against all four walls, so everyone gets a great view of the action. The minimalist costumes and set design concentrate our focus on the characters, whilst the changes in lighting and blackouts aid our understanding of these complex interweaving timelines.
Despite having many of the same lines, each pair of actors put their own unique spin on the performance. While Honey Hopkins and Lily Walker excel with their comedic timing and hysterical delivery of one-liners, Andrew Graham and Elsa Cleaver provide the audience with a more earnest performance as they sensitively tackle serious issues and troubles that the couple face, hinting at an undeniable chemistry between the actors.
One constant across all universes is Marianne’s habit of making crude and uncomfortable comments to fill the silences, which both Cleaver and Walker nail every time.
The play also covers themes of loss and time as Marianne faces a debilitating illness. As her health declines, her speech becomes more and more stunted until she must use sign language, a scene skillfully and sincerely acted out by Hopkins and Walker.
The cast strike a perfect balance between comedy and profundity, so it's no surprise that the first performance of the play awarded itself a standing ovation.
The non-linear nature of the narrative provides the audience with fragments of the bigger picture, without revealing exactly how the play ends, thus keeping our attention captivated. As Nick Payne cleverly presents Marianne as an astrophysicist, the play comments on its own metanarrative as Marianne (Cleaver) states that ‘there’s no linear explanation’ for her behaviour in their relationship.
With the actors situated between the star-like fairy lights of the set, it seems more fitting to call this, not a stellar, but an interstellar performance. If the so-called multiverse does exist, one thing is certain, this performance of ‘Constellations’ would be a triumph in every universe.
The show ran from 17-19 November 2022 at Bristol SU's Pegg Studio Theatre.
Featured Image: Courtesy of Brandon Hamilton
Did you go to see Bristol DramSoc's 'Constellations'?