25 June 2015

Constellations at Richmond Theatre did a lot of nice things with a simple idea

There were lots of good reasons to see Constellations at Richmond Theatre but I discovered most of them after I had booked.

I had simple reasons for booking; I was free that evening, Richmond Theatre was convenient for me to get to, the play sounded interesting and there was a last-minute offer. It was not so much the price that tempted me but getting an offer made me look at the performance again and when I did looked a better deal to go than to miss it. As always, the main investment was my time, not the money. In this case the money was £15 and for that I got Dress Circle  Row A  Seat 16.

This Thursday was a work in Reading day which was fine for getting to the theatre but not so good for eating beforehand. Thankfully there was a pastie shop at Reading station that had a reasonable range of veggie options. I did have time for a beer in Richmond though and I had a quick pint in the Duke near to the theatre. I was there just long enough for the loud music to really annoy me.

The premise of Constellations was set early on when, in a party conversation, a woman explained to a man that one of the theories of physics means that new universes are created whenever a decision is made with each universe following a separate option. That gave us a framework to explore the possible relationships between the woman and the man.

They met at a party and in a succession of quick-fire conversations we had a wide range of scenarios from  him chatting her up with fervour to him moving on quickly to rejoin his wife.

From there they separated, got married, started seeing each other, had affairs, met up again after several years, had violent arguments, and all points in between. The brief scenes moved quickly between the scenarios and between times. It was like somebody had written all the possible relationship events on separate pieces of paper then pulled them out of a hat randomly. That sounds a little weird but it worked.

Making it work were the excellent cast of Louise Brealey and Joe Armstrong who moved seamlessly from scene to scene and mood to mood. I had forgotten that Louise Brealey was Sherlock's love interest, which is one of the good reasons for going that I did not know at the time.

The other good reason for going was that it was written by Nick Payne, who also wrote Incognito which I had seen and loved at the Bush Theatre. That connection was obvious once I had made it as both plays jumped around time and space relying on good actors to take us with them.

The speed and intensity of the ebb and flow of emotions was exhilarating and also exhausting so it was just as well that the play ran for a modest seventy minutes. It did a great deal in that time and an interval would have just broken the spell.

Constellations worked for me on several levels. The construction of the play was innovative but that would not have been enough on its own, it also needed the emotional stories to fill the structure and the wonderful acting to create believable characters that the audience cared about. And we did care.

Constellations was something rather special.

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