Having already opened with its first two casts, Nick Payne’s Constellations, which first ran at The Royal Court in 2012, followed by a West End and Broadway transfer, has moved on to it’s second set of pairings at The Vaudeville Theatre.
The decision to run the play with four different casts was, in part, a result of the pandemic, and one that seems to have paid off, as countless other productions have been forced to close due to isolation rules. But for Constellations it also makes complete sense; this is a play inspired by physics and string theory, and imagines how scenarios would play out in a multiverse.
This means that every scene is replayed over and over again, but each time it is a little different. The overall story arc is a beautiful two hander that sees a relationship develop between a scientist and a bee-keeper. The construct of the play means that there are also scenes in which that relationship doesn’t blossom, but in all likelihood human nature will drive the audience to conclude that Roland and Marianne do get together.
Given the infinite scenarios that could emerge from every single interaction between a couple, it then becomes not inconceivable that in parallel universes Roland and Marianne could be entirely different people, with the first set of casts differing in both age and ethnicity. In one of the second set of casts Marianne becomes Manuel, as Constellations explores a same-sex pairing.
Indeed, of the four versions, it is the one that strays furthest from the original concept that feels the most authentic, in part because of the incredible performances from Omari Douglas and Russell Tovey, who have a sublime chemistry on stage together.
It also feels like it is this pairing who have been able to play with the characters the most, making the most of the alternate realities. While some of the text adapts to accommodate the change of character, much of it actually remains in place, allowing both Manuel and Roland to explore the multiverse possibilities even further.
Anna Maxwell Martin and Chris O’Dowd return Constellations to its roots. But, through O’Dowd in particular, the comedy elements seem heightened. As the play progresses we deal with one of the characters facing an illness, and following on from the earlier levity, this seems even more poignant.
As with the first set of pairings, director Michael Longhurst succeeds in creating two very different plays, despite both versions using the same script. Seeing either of the versions on its own is a thrilling delve in to Nick Payne’s brilliantly written piece, but those lucky enough to see both will have the joy of exploring just how different they are.
Tom Scutt’s canopy of white balloons hanging over the stage fizzes and crackles with light, often reflecting what’s happening in Marianne’s brain. Combine it with Lee Curran’s lighting design and it very effectively separates the timelines, as well as serving as a visually appealing backdrop.
These two versions of Constellations remain a theatrical experience that is out of this world, and anyone who has been able to catch more than one, will be in awe of how different interpretations of Nick Payne’s outstanding play can co-exist in parallel to each other.