Review: Constellations

gets caught up in the cosmic collision of DramaSoc’s considered and touching production

Image: Nick Atherton

Venue: The Drama Barn

★★★★☆

With a lofty title and a summary suggesting abstract wonders, Nick Payne’s Constellations defies expectations. What director Richard Stranks delivers in the Drama Barn is a much more subtle, human approach to otherwise Doctor Who notions of parallel universes and quantum physics. We don’t see characters travelling through time and trying to save the world, but we see something much more intriguing.

Physics professor Marianne and beekeeper Roland are not unusual. Constellations tells a story not unlike many experiences we have had ourselves, but perhaps “story” is the wrong word. Lights suddenly flicking on and off indicated not only a change of scene, but a change in universe. Actors Emma Whitworth (Marianne) and Joseph Willis (Roland) dash about the stage, scenes repeat themselves, each a little different from the last. Who hasn’t wondered what would happen in a parallel universe where you’d said this, or not done that? What is so fascinating about the non-linear tale is that whatever the “real” story was is entirely up to the audience.

It was in the repetition of scenes where the talents of Whitworth and Willis really shone. It is one thing to perfectly execute a scene, but quite another to act out 4 different variations of the script in quick succession. They hopped between happy, sad and all things in between with a versatility not often shown in Dramasoc productions. Both the emotional nuances and physicality of their characters’ relationship were powerfully done. Their characters were neither good nor bad but instead, real. Whitworth was captivating in her portrayal of a woman struggling with the heartbreaking decisions of life and death. She grips the audience with her pain one moment and in another universe, makes the audience forget the pain even occurred. With no props or scenery, Whitworth and Willis thrived under the pressure of being the only two cast members. A small cast suits the Dramabarn space and, as we saw earlier this term with Two, seems to suit Dramasoc’s skills; it’s a format I would hope to see more often.

With the stage in the centre, the audience watched the unfolding of Marianne and Roland’s love story from all sides. Constellations is all about perspective; wherever you sit, you have a different experience to those sitting on the other side. This isn’t always effective, of course: there are moments when some of the audience miss out on a facial expression or both characters have their back to a particular side of the stage. When watching, I hoped for an interval so I could try sitting in a different place when I returned. However, director Richard Stranks makes good use of the space, where the characters rotate continuously and make the most of the unusual layout. The walls, decorated with stars and constellations reflecting the story’s questions of fate and physics, seem juxtaposed with these two ordinary people and their extraordinary story.

Despite the fact the actors were two feet from their audience wearing normal clothes, it was easy to forget that they were York students rather than a couple struggling with love, honey and quantum multiverses. Simple set design and powerful acting make the experiences of two people into something simply extraordinary. Constellations is a play which makes you think as much about yourself as it does the characters. It is the manifestation of a feeling that affects us all: what if?

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