By Nick Payne. Lane Cove Theatre Company. Director Isaac Downey. The Performance Space @ St Aidan’s. 19-28 August, 2022
Reviewed : 19 August, 2022*
Nick Payne’s award-winning play Constellations is based on the possibility that there are multiple universes that can “pull people’s lives in different directions”. Or, that, as his character Marianne, a physicist, suggests: “several outcomes can coexist simultaneously” where “the decisions we do and don’t make will determine which of these futures we actually end up experiencing.”
People often wonder what would have happened if … they made another decision … chosen a different path … bitten their tongue before a harsh retort …
In Constellation,s Payne’s characters, Marianne (Caitlyn Cabrié) and Roland (Tommy James Green), get to experience some “what ifs” as they re-enact scenes where the use of different reactions and different inferences can lead to very different outcomes.
If the whole premise sounds confusing, Payne’s clever writing, and the warm understanding implied in his words, ensure that, once the first scene has been played and re-enacted – and re-enacted again – his hypothesis is clear, and with it the possibility of multiple solutions.
Isaac Downey’s astute direction adds to that clarity. His simple set ensures the concentration is on the actors and their different interpretations of the dialogue. Brief light and sound ‘clicks’ define the many scene changes or replays. The actors slip forward and back in time just as quickly.
None of that can be achieved without a carefully planned vision – and long hours of rehearsal. Green and Cabrié have only seconds to change the whole tenor of a scene and the nature of the character, or to take those characters into the possible ‘futures’ of their relationship.
Downey has guided them through those possibilities with a sure hand so that the different interpretations of their characters are clear and “can coexist simultaneously”. Precision timing is essential. Every replay of a scene means a change of pace and emotion. Every move from past to present to future means a change of place as well as time. It is not an easy play to direct or perform – but Downey and his cast are ‘doing it proud’.
Cabrié’s Marianne moves from speculative scientist to happy lover to cheating or cheated partner in a kaleidoscope of emotional expressions and reactions. In one scene she describes the intricacies of her work in cosmology as if teetering on a balance beam. In another she teeters just as precariously as she approaches, through speech affected by a brain tumour, the possibility of assisted suicide. It’s not an easy role, but Cabrié is finding the multiple dimensions of the many Mariannes effectively.
Tommy James Green brings the experience of stage, screen and improvised performance to his portrayal of Roland. His use of pause and facial expression extend and give depth to the different “Rolands” he depicts. Whether it be the nonchalant barbecue guest, the anxious ballroom dancer, the surprised cheated lover or the querulous husband, Green finds the right stance and expression and pace to portray them clearly.
Isaac Downey couldn’t have guessed when he decided to pitch Constellations for the 2022 season that the James Webb satellite would have scientists all over the world surmising anew about the origins of celestial bodies and even perhaps life itself! It makes Payne’s ‘surmise’ about “multiple universes” seem not quite so unreasonable.
Lane Cove Theatre Company continues to produce plays that are different and thought provoking for their actors and their audiences. This is brave, especially at a time when theatre has been doubly decimated by the pandemic and the economy. In their intimate little space in the back of a church hall, they aspire to do what theatre should do: reflect life, stretch their directors and actors, and make their audiences think outside the ‘little picture’.