Aug 14 2023 | By More

★★★☆☆   Needs more variety

theSpace on the Mile (Venue 39): Sun 6 – Sat 26 Aug 2023
Review by Hugh Simpson

There is a clever idea behind Constellations from ZOE and New Celts at theSpace on the Mile. Unfortunately, it is that very idea that prevents it from working as well as it might as a piece of theatre in this production.

The storyline of Nick Payne’s 2012 play depicts the course of a relationship between scientist Marianne (Chloe Garling) and beekeeper Roland (Zak Cartney), with each scenario played out several times with different outcomes. Sometimes they get together, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they split up… and so on.

Chloe Garling and Zak Cartney in Constellations. Pic Iain Davie

The Multiverse, of course, has become omnipresent in the movies since this was written – although this is more Sliding Doors than Spider-Man – but it’s actually an old trick in the theatre having a story with different paths. It is something Alan Ayckbourn has used, notably in Intimate Exchanges with its sixteen possible plot lines.

Here, the fact that Marianne is (usually) a quantum physicist allows for discussions of quantum states and free will (or the lack thereof) in a way that is natural, but not everything works so smoothly. While there is a great deal of invention on display, and the original premise is followed through with rigour, there are problems.

Too often, the same scene is presented several times in immediate succession, and the changes here are often so minuscule they are not readily apparent. Attempts at different tonal inflections or movement are not quite carried off sufficiently. This has a deadening effect; it works much better when the points of difference are played in a more exaggerated way.

far too long

It also means that it takes far too long for the story itself rather than the form to take centre stage, which makes absorption in the characters difficult. When scenes are presented out of linear sequence, it has more impact; the picture does become clear later on, and the audience has some work to do; otherwise, there is too much of a temptation to let some of it just wash over you.

This won the 2012 Evening Standard Best Play award, so clearly can have considerable impact, but here it just comes across as humdrum.

Zak Cartney in Constellations. Pic Iain Davie

What is undeniable is the sheer quality of performance the actors put in. Simply as a feat of memory it is astonishing, and the lack of differentiation between the various iterations is not down to them.

Neither should it be taken as undue criticism of directors Michael Anderton and Iain Davie, as commendable ebb and flow is often achieved; more variety would however definitely not go amiss.

The strongest elements of this production are actually the most conventional – those dealing with concrete issues and real emotions. It has to be pointed out that there is frank discussion of serious illness, and that this is where this staging really hits home, with real raw power to these interactions that is missing in the more tricksy parts, and everyone concerned seemingly much more at home.

Otherwise, this comes across more as a curiosity than a compelling theatrical experience.

Running time: 1 hour 5 minutes (no interval)
theSpace on the Mile, 80 High St, EH1 1TH (Venue 39)
Sunday 6 – Saturday 26 August 2023 (even dates only)
Even dates only at 1.55 pm
Tickets and details Book here

Zoe Theatre Productions links

Facebook: Zoe Theatre Productions
Instagram: @ZoeTheatreProductions

Chloe Garling in Constellations. Pic Iain Davie


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