What if you could relive the most important moments in your life, over and over, to see how things could have turned out differently?
That’s exactly what English playwright Nick Payne does in his award-winning two-handed play Constellations which Artefact Theatre is presenting as part of this year’s Melbourne’s Fringe Festival.
Set in England, the 90-minute play starts with Roland, a beekeeper, and Marianne, a quantum physicist, meeting at a friend’s barbecue. In one scenario or – given the play’s theme – in one universe, they fall in love. In parallel universes they don’t make it past exchanging pleasantries for numerous reasons which we discover.
This opening scene provides the basis of the play’s structure. As the couple’s story unfolds, we jump forward, back and sideways as possible outcomes of events that impact their relationship are explored. These events can have up to five different outcomes.
In some scenarios the couple go home together after the barbecue, end up moving in but then separating due to the infidelity of one or the other. Again, depending on the scenario or universe they get back together or separate for good.
In the most tragic of scenarios, and the enduring story line of the play, they get together, separate after infidelity, reconnect at ballroom dance classes, marry and then discover Marianne has a brain tumour and has less than a year to live. Given her debilitating symptoms she and Roland travel overseas in search of an assisted dying program. But does she proceed or return to England?
While some of the themes of Constellations are rather challenging, one of the joys of the play is watching Mark Yeates as Roland and Bridie Pamment as Marianne in action.
Both give wonderful performances in what must be extremely challenging roles given the number of times the same scene has to be repeated. Thanks to their performances the changed attitudes and behaviours of their characters in the different outcomes of the same event are clearly evident.
Adding to their challenge is the almost immediate swap of the characters’ emotions for the one scenario. These emotions can range from happiness, love, and joy to sadness, grief, anger and heartbreak.
Their performances help explain why Constellations earned both the Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Play in 2012, and the 2022 Olivier Award for Best Play Revival. It’s a thought provoking, heart rending sometimes humorous exploration of something most of us have considered – “What If?”
*Photo credit: Ben Andrews
Jenny Burns attended the opening night of Constellations as a guest of the producers.
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