Review: Constellations, New Victoria Theatre

“An indented rule indicates a change in universe”
When a rooftop beekeeper and quantum cosmologist meet-cute at a party, the first few lines of Nick Payne’s play Constellations suggest a rom-com in the making as time restarts and a new possibility plays out, it’s clear that there’s something much more eloquently sophisticated at work here. Premiering at the Royal Court upstairs, Michael Longhurst’s production manages to be both intimate and epic, the story of two people somehow expanding to fill several universes of heartfelt emotion.


When a rooftop beekeeper and quantum cosmologist meet-cute at a party, the first few lines of Nick Payne’s play Constellations suggest a rom-com in the making as time restarts and a new possibility plays out, it’s clear that there’s something much more eloquently sophisticated at work here. Transferring from the Royal Court upstairs to the Duke of York’s in the West End, Michael Longhurst’s production sacrifices nothing in the scaling up to the larger venue and if anything, gains in epic power.


When a rooftop beekeeper and quantum cosmologist meet-cute at a party, the first few lines of Nick Payne’s play Constellations suggest a rom-com in the making as time restarts and a new possibility plays out, it’s clear that there’s something much more eloquently sophisticated at work here. Marking the Broadway debut for all concerned, Michael Longhurst’s production manages the transatlantic transfer seamlessly and one wonders where the show could end up next.


Woking. After successes in the West End and on Broadway, Nick Payne’s play Constellations is now touring the UK, starting off at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking. Which is as good a place as any to see a rooftop beekeeper and quantum cosmologist meet-cute at a party and find themselves exploring the many possibilities that their relationship could take as scenes are played and replayed, shifting their journey together subtly but ineffably into new places. 


Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall. Perfect casting for the effervescent, wise-cracking Marianne and the slightly nerdish but endlessly endearing Roland, their intensity beautifully matched especially in the poignant flashforwards.


Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall. That perfect casting retained for the transfer, their ease with each other and the technical challenges of the script even smoother than before and if the larger venue challenged them at all, there was no evidence of it.


Ruth Wilson and Jake Gyllenhaal. All change for Broadway – Wilson’s immense subtleties (is that an oxymoron?) made an ideal, if less kooky, Marianne and Gyllenhaal gave an interestingly judged performance as Roland, less obviously blokey but no less moving.


Louise Brealey and Joe Armstrong. And to the tour, Brealey really makes her mark with a more brittle, abrasive interpretation that contrasts so effectively with the warmer moments, and Armstrong exudes a hugely likeable affability that you would certainly chase across universes to find and keep.



Can I really put my finger on why I like this play so much? Why I think it is one of the smartest pieces of new writing that I’ve seen in recent years? I’m not sure that I can.
It’s to do with the way it wears its scientific concepts so lightly – I mean I couldn’t tell you anything about quantum physics right now but during the play, it feels like maybe I could.
It’s to do with the all-too-human instinct to wonder what if I’d done that differently, what path might that have led me down.
It’s to do with the expression of such powerfully felt emotion that yet feels intelligently reasoned.
It’s to do with free will.
It’s to do with love.


I cried a little bit. Well quite a bit.


I cried so much I couldn’t speak for about quarter of an hour afterwards.


I cried a lot, but a New Year’s Day hangover probably had something to with my emotional state too.


I cried a surprisingly small amount, almost just the artful single tear in fact.


Tom Scutt’s design is inspired – I don’t tweet him. Atom-based clusters of balloons trail from the corridor into the theatre, hexagonal tiles mark out the physical space the actors occupy, and Lee Curran’s lighting tracks the darkening mood perfectly.  


Tom Scutt’s design is inspired – I don’t tweet him. Some of the finer details are lost in the larger space but the evolving scale of the work is artfully done, capturing something even grander about the emotional contours of the play. This time, it is the sound design by David McSeveney that resonates stronger, delineating each fundamental shift so clearly.  


Tom Scutt’s design is inspired – I tweet him, I don’t meet him. It looks as good as ever but the detail of Curran’s lighting is what captures my attention – the shift in the flashes of colour through to blood red, the antiseptic white of the harsh future scenes, the individual balloons picked out in lights with their own secrets.


Tom Scutt’s design is inspired – I tweet him, I don’t meet him and now I probably never will. Since the show has been end-on, there’s been a key scenic detail that I’ve missed every time. Every time. There aren’t enough potential universes to explain this. I need to go again.



Can I put my finger on why I like Constellations so much?
Even on my fourth viewing, there are details that come to me anew.
There are details that have still yet eluded me.
There are scenes that somehow pack a gut-punch as fierce as the first time – why wouldn’t language shift that way.
There are replayed scenes that I could continue to watch over and over – notes in hand or not 🙂   
And in perfect keeping with the theme of the show, Michael Longhurst has kept the production the same but different, or is it different but the same in a remarkable way. Marianne may wear an almost identical outfit whether it’s Hawkins, Wilson or Brealey wearing the shoes but she has exuded such a singular sense each time which has been breathtaking to behold. And partnered by the affable/affectionate/rumpled charms of Spall/Gyllenhaal/Armstrong, they’ve all been Marianne and Roland but their own Marianne and Roland and brilliantly so.



I loved it.


I loved it.


I loved it.


I loved it.



Running time: 70 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Helen Maybanks
Booking until 17th May, then touring to Liverpool Playhouse, Bristol Old Vic, Nuffield Theatre Southampton, The Lowry Salford, Cambridge Arts, Richmond Theatre and Theatre Royal Brighton

Looking ahead to 2015

I realise I’m just adding (belatedly) to the plethora of 2015 features already published but so many of them trod the boringly familiar ground of forthcoming West End shows (and in the Evening Standard’s case, managed to recommend booking for three shows already sold out from their list of six). So I’ve cast my net a little wider and chosen a few random categories for just some of the shows I’m recommending and looking forward to in 2015.

Continue reading “Looking ahead to 2015”

TV Review: Happy Valley

 
“Why would he do something like that? We’ve got caravans, we’ve got a games room that caters for people in wheelchairs”

My favourite thing about Happy Valley is actually the association the title has for me and my family – it was the name of the Chinese takeaway opposite my Aunty Jean’s house where we’d often get our Saturday tea. It’s a lovely fond memory that sits rather at odds with the realities of this recent TV series which I finally caught up with and which reunites what looks like becoming one of the best creative partnerships we have in the country – writer Sally Wainwright and actor Sarah Lancashire. Baftas all around I shouldn’t wonder.

The location may be similar to the rather more bucolic Last Tango in HalifaxHappy Valley is set in nearby Hebden Bridge – but we’re in a much grittier world of suburban disillusionment as this police drama takes in kidnap, rape and murder, all underscored by the pervasive influence of a spiralling drugs problem throughout the town. Wainwright being a more sophisticated writer than most though, ensures that her drama takes in the full breadth of the experience, examining the aftermath of the crimes just as much as the deeds themselves. Continue reading “TV Review: Happy Valley”

2014 Offie Award Finalists

Offies Awards - Off West End Theatre Awards

Best Female
Leanne Best for The Match Box at The Tricycle 
Lucy Ellinson for Grounded at The Gate
Vicki Lee Taylor for On A Clear Day You Can See Forever at The Union
Phoebe Waller-Bridge for Fleabag at Soho

Best Male
Joe Armstrong for The Dumb Waiter at The Print Room
James Cooney for Bottleneck at Soho
Michael Pennington for Dances of Death at The Gate
Jamie Samuel for Jumpers for Goalposts at The Bush

Best New Play
Bottleneck by Luke Barnes at Soho
Jumpers for Goalposts by Tom Wells at The Bush
The Match Box by Frank McGuinness at The Tricycle Continue reading “2014 Offie Award Finalists”

Review: The Dumb Waiter, Print Room

“Scampi!”

The charms of Harold Pinter have long eluded me and so the idea of a £20 50-minute show in a theatre far away from mine on a TFL-challenged weekend did not fill me with the hugest amount of excitement. But the promise of a nice dinner afterwards got me there and whilst I can’t say that The Dumb Waiter provided any Damascene conversion, it was definitely better than I thought it was going to be.

Two hit men sit waiting in a basement – it is Pinter after all – expecting someone to get in touch with their next job and whilst they wait, they fill the time with banal discussions and squabbles over such minutiae as football matches from their past, the local news and the correct wording of a particular saying. The banter bounces back and forth and as the time comes ever closer to the order being received, the mood darkens into something much more menacing. Continue reading “Review: The Dumb Waiter, Print Room”

DVD Review: Breaking the Mould – The Story of Penicillin

“Dirt is the enemy”

Breaking the Mould was a 2009 TV movie for BBC4, starring Denis Lawson and Dominic West, about the development of penicillin for use as a medicine. It occupies that strange ground of fictionalised reality, in that it is based on real people and events but contains invented scenes “for the purposes of the narrative”. Added to that is a rather tight timeframe of 80 minutes in which the story is told, which results in a rather lightweight affair, which is nonetheless intermittently entertaining.

Starting in 1938, after beginning with one of those annoying flash-forwards to the end of the story, the film focuses on a group of scientists at the Dunn School of Pathology in Oxford, led by Australian Howard Florey. Aided by the German Ernst Chain and the English Norman Heatley, he was preoccupied creation of a stable form of penicillin that could be developed for medical use, following Fleming’s initial discovery of its antibacterial properties. Against the antipathy of the scientific community and the hardship imposed by the declaration of WWII, their determination to succeed eventually led to one of the most significant discoveries of the century, although it doesn’t always necessarily feel like it here. Continue reading “DVD Review: Breaking the Mould – The Story of Penicillin”

TV Review: The Hollow Crown, Henry IV Part I

“Then would I have his Harry, and he mine”

The Hollow Crown continues with Henry IV Part I, directed by Richard Eyre who also does the ensuing Part II (but not Henry V, though the productions are cross-cast). But where Rupert Goold’s Richard II embraced the form to create something more cinematic (although not to everyone’s tastes), this is an altogether more traditional affair and not necessarily the better for it. 

What Eyre brings out is the father-son relationships. Tom Hiddleston’s carousing Prince Hal, partnered extremely well by David Dawson’s Poins in what was an excellent performance I thought, is movingly forced towards maturity on the battlefield, as King Henry, Jeremy Irons in impassive form and making the presence of what is admittedly quite a secondary character really stand out, laments the fecklessness of his heir. This is contrasted of course by the gumption of young Hotspur, Joe Armstrong oozing rugged charisma and forming the highlight of the whole thing for me, and in a lovely piece of casting, his real father, Alun Armstrong has been cast as his onscreen father which added poignancy to their moments.  Continue reading “TV Review: The Hollow Crown, Henry IV Part I”

Review: Flare Path, Theatre Royal Haymarket

“I always thought our private happiness was more important than outside things”

Flare Path marks the second of 3 Rattigan plays this month for me as his anniversary year really gets into swing with two major London productions opening this month, joining the fringe and regional shows that have already begun to celebrate the work of this most English of writers. It also marks the first production of Trevor Nunn’s artistic directorship at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. Written in 1941 it is drawn from Rattigan’s own RAF experience in the Second World War

Set over a 1942 weekend in a hotel occupied by fighter pilots and their visiting wives, near an airbase in Lincolnshire, the story centres on Patricia, an actress who although she has married the affably handsome Flight Lieutenant Teddy after a whirlwind romance, has been tempted back by her former lover, film star Peter Kyle and she intends to tell Teddy of her intent to leave him. But the war waits for no woman and as Teddy serves his country alongside his fellow men and she is left waiting with the other wives, all struggling with the different pressures the war is placing on their own marriages, Patricia’s resolve is weakened and the her dilemma becomes more pressing. Continue reading “Review: Flare Path, Theatre Royal Haymarket”

Review: The Empire, Royal Court Upstairs

“Patch you up, all nice like, splint, bandage your leg. All very civilized actually. But then. Then. We hand you over.”

Played out in real-time in war torn Afghanistan, The Empire is the latest work to take up residence upstairs at the Royal Court. Only the second play by DC Moore, it promises “to dissect the politics of occupation, home and abroad“. 

In the aftermath of a bloody skirmish, a mysterious wounded prisoner is guarded a young British soldier, Gary, and his Afghan colleague, nicknamed Paddy although really monikered Hafizullah. Along with Gary’s commanding officer, they await logistical support and much needed medical assistance but in the long wait under the burning desert sun, questions are asked and frustrations boil over in the search for the truth of just what is going on. Continue reading “Review: The Empire, Royal Court Upstairs”