Constellations review: ‘well-imagined’

By Tania Chakraborti 

Lion Theatre Company’s adaptation of Nick Payne’s ‘Constellations’ was theoretically well-imagined, but in reality, was still missing that ‘special something’.

The premise of the play is an exciting one. As director wrote in her Director’s Note, the play ‘perfectly captures the ‘what if’ of relationships, merging love with multiverse theory’. It did ultimately succeed in conveying the actualities of intimate relationships, due to the varied nature of the creatively reworked scenes between the lovers Marianne (Annie Davison) and Rachel (Izzy Mitchell).

Let me start by highlighting the obvious achievements of the production. A play that requires repeated dialogue to convey alternative realities, has the potential to be exceedingly boring. Constellations was far from this; it did not fail to keep the audience absorbed throughout. This is undoubtedly due to the strength of acting showcased, as the play featured some lovely tender moments and brilliantly executed comedic lines.

In a play with just two actors, it is tempting to suggest that one was more engaging than the other; for me, this actress was undoubtedly Davison. Her ability to make the audience both laugh consistently and to sympathise with her in those most harrowing moments, proved her to be a skilled and highly versatile actress. Of course, Mitchell gave a fantastic performance and her manipulation of dialogue to suit her desired characterisations was equally as exemplary as her partner’s.

However, first night nerves may have prevented Mitchell from embracing the stage as confidently as Davison did, particularly during the first interpretive dance which was somewhat out of time. Regardless, I am confident that the performance of both actors will hopefully be faultless by final night.

Director should be commended for her use of a black box, in-the-round setting. It allowed for a brilliantly close analysis of human experience. The scene transitions were impressive, achieved slickly by the actors simply switching positions on stage. Her casting decision of two women (as opposed to a man and woman as in Payne’s original) was the right one; the chemistry between her two actors was evident, whilst the relationship dynamic reflected modern society as it is. Technical Director Alok Kumar did a fantastic job with lighting and projection; tech changes were professionally smooth and appropriately atmospheric.

So what was that ‘special something’ that was missing? Personally, there was a predictability in the way scenes were staged. Arguably this should not really be the case with a play that deals with the theme of endless possibility. The music and sound choices were at times, well-executed but at others, missed the mark. This led to some confusing scene switches. It is a shame that the mirrors, which were beautifully and symmetrically placed upstage, were not used to as great effect in the first half of the play, as they were in the latter scenes.

There was also still tape left on the stage, presumably from rehearsal, and the piece of paper used for Mitchell’s speech had no visible writing on it. These are obviously minor criticisms, but with few props in a confined black box setting (where everything is visible to the intimate audience), attention to detail is so vital.

Despite this, do not be deterred from heading down to The Assembly Rooms Theatre this week. A great deal of effort has clearly been made to transport the audience into a world of possibility and human truth. The audience laughed in all the right places and were genuinely hooked in scenes of emotional trauma. Price has thus done an admirable job in staging something very new on the Durham scene (manipulating the multiverse is no mean feat). If you want something unique – and admittedly, very specific – from your evening, by all means, don’t let me stop you buying a ticket.

‘Constellations’ will be performed at the Assembly Rooms Theatre from Thursday, 2nd February until Saturday, 4th February at 19.30. Book your tickets here. 

Photograph: Lion Theatre Company 

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