Review: Constellations (Liverpool Playhouse)


Constellations dazzled the critics when it opened in London in 2012, and went on to win the best play award at that year’s Evening Standard Theatre Awards. Rafe Spall and Sally Hawkins took the lead roles, with Hollywood film actor Jake Gyllenhaal appearing in a Broadway production earlier this year. Now it’s playing selected theatres on a short UK tour, and luckily for Liverpool audiences that includes the Playhouse.

Michael Longhurst, the original director of Nick Payne’s play, is still at the helm and the two central roles are again played by well-known actors: Louise Brealey (pathologist Molly Hooper in Sherlock) and Joe Armstrong (son of Alun, and successful in his own right with prominent roles in TV series such as Happy Valley and The Village).

Watching this play you quickly realise what all the fuss has been about. It really is a unique theatrical experience – short (70 minutes), but so packed with ideas, humour and sadness it’ll keep you spellbound throughout.

The play starts with laidback beekeeper Roland (Joe Armstrong) meeting nervy, slightly eccentric university lecturer Marianne (Louise Brealey) at a barbecue. Marianne’s academic specialism is quantum physics and soon she’s telling Roland about ‘multiverse’ theory, the idea that multiple parallel universes exist, where everything is repeated but with an infinite number of possible outcomes.

The whole of Constellations shows us what this means, with a succession of scenes in which we see the couple’s relationship develop in a variety of alternative ways, that sometimes converge and sometimes take off in different directions. You might be reminded of the film Sliding Doors here, or of other playwrights who have played with time, such as J B Priestley, Alan Ayckbourn and Tom Stoppard. There are moments when the couple seem powerless – incapable of controlling what will happen to them – and moments when we have an uplifting sense that anything is within their grasp.

I don’t think I was the only member of the audience who found it a little difficult to get my head completely round the theory (and I’m not sure even those who did would necessarily have believed it). But fortunately Constellations is far from being a clever but dry intellectual exercise. It packs a hefty emotional punch, and we find ourselves rooting for the couple as their relationship heads into some dark places.

The two lead actors are both outstanding, one minute making the audience laugh, the next confronting them with the horror of the things life can sometimes throw at you. Constellations is well on the way to becoming a classic and shouldn’t be missed.

Constellations continues at the Liverpool Playhouse until Saturday 23 May 2015. For more information, click HERE.