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Constellations - Review * 13 July 2015

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Having completed a nationwide tour, the production of Nick Payne's acclaimed play Constellations has now taken up residence at Trafalgar Studios. Starring Louise Brealey and Joe Armstrong, the brisk two-hander lasts just over an hour but revels in a complex idea, carefully revealed through humour, drama and eventually sadness. Luminously staged on a minimal set filled with white balloons, the black stage inset with a repetitive grid of honeycomb, the play requires both actors to delve into true performance to communicate a love story that is wrapped within a truly complex idea.

To go a little deeper, without spoiling too much - we came to the play completely cold, with no prior knowledge - Constellations deals with the endless spectrum of choices we make throughout our lives, examining the way a moment can veer into multiple directions and emotions leading to exponentially different outcomes. In some realities, you may never have met the person you hold closest to you, be they friends or life partners. But, as the play makes devastatingly clear, these choices are still unable to escape an inevitable slide towards individual fate.

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Both Louise Brealey and Joe Armstrong have to bounce completely off the other, personalities shifting between moments to avoid repetition. The characters of Marianne and Roland seem utterly opposed in terms of their interests on face value, she a theoretical scientist, he a bee keeper. The old chestnut of 'opposites attract' comes into play - though the script does also feature plenty of demonstrations of how opposites really can remain opposite - as the play deftly shows how these two completely different individuals come to be completely entwined, casually dropping complex comparison between causality and the singular purpose of insects into the mix as a deeper layer to proceedings.

Because of the nature of the play, both characters are extremely difficult to pin down, past life experiences making them wildly differing versions of themselves. Louise imbues the many versions of Marianne with charm, kookiness, flintiness, humour and a mind that is never more engaged than when she is explaining the potential for our existence. Joe Armstrong meanwhile places the many versions of Roland on a seesaw, sliding from end to end between the extremes of supreme cockiness and confidence to stumbling, stammering nervousness. Neither role is intended to outshine the other due to the nature of the script - both become hateful, both become wonderful, both ultimately cannot exist without the other.

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Constellations is a thought provoking, moving piece of theatre. You may come out pondering your own past choices, thankful for those you spend your life with, or alarmed to consider the future. This is a play structured around one of the most complex theories in science, but anchored by simple human emotions. Quantum Mechanics come into direct conflict with the human heart, with the two superb performances from Louise Brealey and Joe Armstrong leading us through the spectrum of possibilities that exist somewhere inbetween choice and fate.

Constellations is a production of the Royal Court Theatre, playing at Trafalgar Studios until Saturday 1 August 2015. Tickets are available from the Royal Court website.           

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