“If only we could understand why it is that we’re here and what it is we’re meant to spend our lives doing”
No word of a lie, the moment I heard that it would be Ruth Wilson joining Jake Gyllenhaal in the Broadway production of Nick Payne’s Constellations was the moment that I decided that I would make my own long-awaited debut appearance in New York. It is a play that both captivated and broke my heart at the Royal Court Upstairs and again in its subsequent West End transfer, so I had no worries about it scaling up to the Samuel J Friedman Theatre – the only concern being that Wilson and Gyllenhaal would match up to the incandescent performances of Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall.
Fortunately they more than meet the challenge, offering up performances that simultaneously echo their predecessors whilst also finding something new, neatly reflecting the multiverse theory that underpins Payne’s writing here. On paper it might seem terribly scientific – “at any given moment, several outcomes can co-exist simultaneously” – but in reality, it is ineffably, unbearably human in the gorgeous contours of Michael Longhurst’s finely tuned production as scenes play and then instantly replay, shifting subtly but crucially each time with the story of Marianne and Roland’s relationship.
What might seem like a rehearsal room exercise in lesser hands – repeating the same lines but in a variety of readings – becomes loaded with the weight of possibility as each incarnation is as persuasively real as the next. Wilson’s scientist and Gyllenhaal’s beekeeper capture perfectly the fallibility of human interaction, their quirky chemistry undeniable even as the theoretical physics works against them, and watching them work their way through the multiple stages of their love affair, and all of the variations inbetween, is to be in the presence of something close to theatrical perfection.
Marianne is the more outwardly gregarious of the characters, her path the more dramatically plotted, and Wilson pitches it perfectly in showing us hints of the insecurity beneath the bluster and truly breaking the heart when that which she values the most in life starts to slip from her grasp. And Gyllenhaal proves himself an actor of no little gravity as his more understated work forms the perfect counterweight, mining just as heartfelt a connection to the writing. Tom Scutt’s elegant design, Lee Curran’s lighting and David McSeveney’s sound recreate their perfect confluence for this metaphysical space and even though this was the third time, I still sobbed my little heart out from about 40 minutes in. Worth planning a week in New York for? Abso-bloody-lutely!