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Preview: Constellations – a rehearsed reading

Apparently, according to the Wikipedia page on Quantum Multiverse Theory (whatever that is), there exists an “infinite number of possible universes that together comprise everything that exists: the entirety of space, time, matter, and energy as well as the physical laws and constants that describe them”. Yeah, me neither. Or, as David Tennant helpfully describes in one of his more technical moments as Doctor Who, “every single decision you make creates a parallel existence” creating “billions of parallel universes all stacked up against each other.” Ah, cheers Dave.

And, according to respected theoretical physicist Richard P. Feynman, “physics isn’t the most important thing – love is.” So, if we were to put the two halves of our conversation together and bash out a play script, we should come up with something not too dissimilar to Nick Payne’s Constellations. Which is a very roundabout way of letting you know that, as part of Turl Street Arts Festival, there will be a free (!) rehearsed reading of Constellations every evening this week, directed by Tom “ooh didn’t he direct Pillowman” Bailey.

Dina Tsesarsky and Jack Welch star as Marianne and Roland. She is an academic studying high-level physics. He earns a living by making honey. That’s about all that can be said for certain. Instead of presenting audiences with a traditional linear plot, Payne asks the eternal question ‘what if?’ and delves into the quantum realm, depicting Marianne and Roland’s story in a host of different realities, with different meetings, different betrayals, different conversations, and different endings. Marianne and Roland are simultaneously together and not, simultaneously loyal and unfaithful, simultaneously dysfunctional flatmates and star-cross’d lovers.

It is the unfortunate nature of a rehearsed reading that there is a certain degree of stasis, but Tsesarsky and Welch do their best to imbue the piece with movement and dynamism. Both reveal their capabilities by subtly altering their characters as the reality changes. In one universe, Roland is confident, almost suave, but in another he is a nervous wreck. In one universe, Marianne is forthright but in another she is temperate and loving.

Repetition is rife, as conversations echo one another across realities. Far from engendering frustration, however, this provokes attentiveness. The viewer picks up on the subtle differences and immediately wonders why they are significant and what they mean. They also introduce an element of humour as the characters betray their nuances through their mere choice of words.

When Constellations originally opened at the Royal Court in January 2012, living legend and sometime drama critic Michael Billington declared himself uncertain as to whether it was “the cleverest play in town or simply Love Story with extra physics”. With Bailey’s reading, this will not matter to the average audience member. Nick Payne’s play can be both trite and thought-provoking, both contemplative and heart-warming. And therein lies its strength. Plus, its free.

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