Bille Brown Studio
March 9 – April 9 2017
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
Humans are meaning makers.
Sam Strong, Artistic Director QT
You may have had to learn the dance routine slowly and in its component parts, but in the end, you had to let go and dance.
The universe doesn’t care about time…
Kat Henry, Director
We have all the time we’ve ever, and never had.
Nick Payne’s award winning Constellations is an extraordinary play, and Kat Henry’s world class production for Queensland Theatre and Queensland Museum (and a major coup for the World Science Festival) is nothing short of astonishing, challenging actors and audiences to truly be present, live in the moment, and make the connections between seemingly random occurrences before opportunities (and loved ones) become lost to us.
Essentially, Constellations is a beautiful and complex love story, but it’s also about the choices we make and the infinite possibilities presented across ‘multiverses’.
Historically, physics has explained time chronologically, as in the “arrow of time”, charging forward in a single trajectory, however; an alternative view sees time as something immediate, infinite, without beginning or end, presenting endless opportunities. In A Time Apart, Paul Chan describes the quality, not quantity, of time as “A kind of time charged with promise and significance.” Upon further reading it becomes clear that the two types of time are entangled and while some may regard time as something to be kept, others derive greater satisfaction in its release…
The creative team behind Constellations is a scintillating meeting of minds, bringing the abstract and complexity of quantum mechanics, string theory and relativity, and the challenges of the unlikely relationship between an apiarist and an astro physicist into a reality accessible to all. (Can you lick your elbow? Try it!).
Within a deceptively simple design lies lots of clues: the dots we connect to make meaning from the play, in the same way, if we’re living mindfully, that we’re able to make meaning of our lives. Anthony Spinaze’s design draws on the visual representation of the scientific theories, the hexagonal spaces of bee hives and a smooth, shiny, deep blue undulating surface, beneath which we sense a tumultuous emotional landscape. At any given moment, the actors appear to be standing in space, or on the peak of a mountain, or within any interior indicated in the text. We are anywhere and everywhere all at once. Spinaze’s aesthetic is one of the most inspired, intelligent and effective designs we’ve seen for a long time, and so useful in terms of giving the performers a real-surreal place in which to play.
Ben Hughes’ lighting is inherent in the design, built into the landscape and shining like streams of starlight from the wings and the rig above. The side lighting is particularly effective as we settle into the rhythm of the play and watch the relationship dance across various universes, and immensely satisfying is the final effect, covering the floor with the constellations of the title. A swirling black hole exists out of sight and yet right under our noses, continuously appearing in segments during the repeated motifs, the impressive choreography of the performers (how are they finding their marks in the dark?!) incrementally leading Roland and Marianne toward their inevitable fate. Guy Webster’s original compositions and a salient soundscape take this production into another realm, sending us at the speed of light between alternate worlds, poignant moments.
Lucas Stibbard and Jessica Tovey are perfectly cast, generously offering beautifully nuanced, incredibly rich material to one another and making every second vividly real, despite the challenges, which are more often found in film, presented by so much repetition in the text. This play could easily be a disaster of monumental proportions, and boring to boot, but Director, Kat Henry, is in possession of directorial superpowers. She employs a couple of them by crafting just enough of each vignette (we see an extraordinary 59 – or is it 60 – scenes in all), giving the actors clear boundaries, literally, within the space, delineated by lines and light, and also enough space between these boundaries and the actors’ bodies in which to allow them room to recreate each part of the story in a fresh, new way. I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like it, certainly not on a Brisbane stage. And the blocking! (Because even within these scenes, driven by impulse, there is a certain amount of direction to get them to where they need to go).
When speaking about working on this play on Broadway, Jake Gyllenhaal observed, “There’s no moment for autopilot. It demands a constant presence,” and while this is true of every acting job, Constellations showcases the incredible skill and highly attuned instinctual natures of these two performers. To put it in a film context again, it’s as if we’re seeing every single take during a shoot, but every single take is being captured for a different film, depending on the choices made by the characters (and by the actors embodying those characters). It’s next level Sliding Doors. Bravo, Kat Henry, for diving in so deeply. We’re able to plunge the depths of human existence with Roland and Marianne, and come up for air at the end of the night in a state of serene acceptance of the tragic circumstances because, as incredibly moving and devastating as this conclusion is, we completely understand the way everything just is…and always was and always will be.
Whether or not you’re a performer, Constellations is a masterclass in staying in the present moment, applying fearless choices and responding courageously, instinctually and intentionally to whatever’s happening in a given moment.
Constellations is astonishing work; it really could change your life.
For two evenings only, do not miss the unique opportunity to attend a performance of this critically acclaimed play, accompanied by an onstage conversation between Constellations playwright Nick Payne and World Science Festival co-founder and physicist Brian Greene. Following the performance, Nick Payne and Brian Greene will delve into our current understanding of the multiverse, the mysteries that remain, and why this theory captivated Payne’s imagination inspiring this theatrical tour de force. This exclusive event is a collaboration between World Science Festival Brisbane and Queensland Theatre. Book online