We’ve all had those moments where our future seems to hang on a precipice. Multiple diver- gent paths open up before us as we consider an infinite number of possibilities that each moment in our lives could lead to. Sometimes these are seemingly miniscule; like getting served the flavourless chicken instead of the juicy looking steak at a formal function and having to watch the person next to you devour it with glee whilst you try to contain your food envy. And then there are more serious moments of chance, like just missing a flight that ends up crashing with no survivors. And for anyone who has fallen in love, considering the seemingly absurd possibility of you and your special someone being in the right place at the right time to form that first connection is enough to make the mind boggle.
In the Melbourne Theatre Company’s (MTC) latest offering, Constellations, by English wunderkind Nick Payne, the ‘what could have beens’ of two people pursuing happiness together is tackled confidently within the broader context of the fractured nature of the multiverse, with some rather dense ideas from the realm of quantum physics.
One of the complex theories that the play utilises is the ‘Many Worlds’ interpretation of quantum mechanics originally developed by physicist Hugh Everett. This idea posits that each decision or change in the universe creates a separate universe that splits off into a completely independent existence.
In a format that is reminiscent of the 1998 film Sliding Doors and the juxtaposed ‘reality vs. expectations’ scene presented in the 2009 film 500 Days of Summer, Constellations presents fractured snapshots from the possible lives of quantum physicist Marianne, played by Alison Bell, and beekeeper Roland, played by Leon Ford. The play seamlessly flows from one of these possible universes to the next, sometimes repeating scenes with only subtle changes in gestures or dialogue, to scenes in which these two characters are unrecognisable compared to the previous version in the previous possible universe.
Both Alison Bell and Leon Ford gave excellent performances under the steady direction of Leticia Cáceres in her mainstage debut as MTC Associate Director. Bell and Ford handled with ease the multiple characters without letting them blend into each other in the complex and layered script. The performances worked well because we got the definite sense that the actors saw each alternate universe version of Marianne and Roland as individual characters, no matter how imperceptible their differences may be on first glance.
The haunting soundtrack and sound effects by DJ/producer The Sweats (available for free download at http://thesweats. bandcamp.com) as well as the lighting designed by Rachel Burke were also used to great result. Sharp lighting fades, in addition to musical breaks of jilting chords, helped to denote shifts to another alternate universe for Marianne and Roland and eased the general flow of the performance.
The minimalist set designed by Marg Horwell had as its showpiece a large chandelier in for repairs within a large wooden frame. The rest of the set resembled a ballroom or a function room waiting to be set up complete with stacked chairs, wine glasses in boxes and a few disco balls discarded along the edge of the stage. Presumably continuing on the play’s themes of endless possibility and change, the set hints at the many possible arrangements the room could be set up in each possible universe.
Constellations is a well-written play that subtly reveals more and more the further you delve into the ideas it presents. So it is easy to understand why it was awarded Best Play at the 2012 Evening Standard Awards, making Payne at 28 the youngest playwright to ever take home this coveted award. If you can’t make it down to see this production, Payne confirmed in January of this year that Constellations is currently being adapted for the big screen. Whether this intelligent piece of original theatre successfully makes the leap to film remains to be seen, but I look forward to following future works from this talented young playwright.
‘Constellations’ by Nick Payne Melbourne Theatre Company The Arts Centre, Fairfax Studio until 23rd March 2013