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Constellations :   Preview

by on 10 April 2023

Multiverse of Possibilities

Constellations :   A Preview

OHADS at Hampton Hill Theatre, 18th – 22nd April

 Drama critic Thomas Forsythe discusses OHADS’ forthcoming production of Nick Payne’s acclaimed play Constellations with Director Wesley Henderson Roe

Wesley is a well-respected director with a string of hit shows to his name for many local societies.  In addition, as a trained set designer he is much in demand for his scenery planning and building skills.  He was awarded the Arts Richmond Accolade in 2013 for services to amateur theatre.

TF:                  Hello Wesley,it’s great to meet up with you again and to have the chance to chat about Constellations.   I recall that the play had several nominations at the Olivier Awards about ten years ago, after it had had a fairly rapid rise from the Royal Court into the West End.  What drew you to directing this play?  

WHR:           Hello Thomas.  Well, having been appraised of the existence of this play some years ago, I was delighted to see one of the four casts of the June 2021 revival at the Vaudeville Theatre, with Anna Maxwell Martin as Marianne and Chris O’Dowd as Roland.  I bought the script!  I am delighted that OHADS has seen fit to take the risk of presenting this less well-known play and to allow us to stage it for them here at Hampton Hill.

TF:                  I believethe characters in Constellations are a beekeeper and physicist, rather like Charlotte Jones’ Humble Boy of a decade earlier.

WHR:           Yes, but Constellations is deeper and more complex.  It is essentially a love story between a cosmic scientist, Marianne and a beekeeper, Roland, who meet by chance at a barbecue … in several different universes.  Their relationship plays out across these differing universes, sometimes well, sometimes not so well, and the audience gets to see multiple variations in real time.  Moreover, their story also tells how they cope with the devastating news of a cancer diagnosis.

TF:                  My, you said it is complex, but the challenges of the production must be enormous.  How do you represent a multiverse in only three dimensions?  How do you show the audience the transitions between these parallel universes?  How do the actors know which of several universes they are in at any one time?  Not an easy task, I think.

WHR:           We hope you will come and see for yourselves, but here are some of the ways we hope we’ve overcome these challenges.  Each universe is represented by a hexagon on the floor, allowing the actors to step from one to another at each transition point.  The hexagons themselves also create a honeycomb pattern, in turn mirroring the home of bees.  Each universe will have a theme to introduce it or play behind it.  These themes will alter in pitch or tone as we transition from one to another.  The lighting will be wholly hexagon-specific indicating which universe the actors are currently in.  Lighting will also be used to indicate transitions, alongside sound.  The actors will not however have the benefit of the normal costume changes or props to assist them in knowing where they are so will have to rely on their own skills to overcome this hurdle.

TF:               Might the audience find this a bit challenging?  It smacks a bit of another play of that era, Michael Frayne’s Copenhagen, which had the physicists Bohr and Heisenberg, the developers of the atom bomb, discussing the theories and concept of nuclear participle, which, it’s fair to say, rather sit outside of the scope of most theatre goers.

WHR:           We sincerely hope not, and to date visitors and invited guests who have sat in on final rehearsals to give us valuable feedback have thankfully not had an issue (we did ask them) and have been full of praise for the performances, even before we have added in lighting and sound effects.

TF:                  Perhaps even more challenging than the intricacies of quantum physics are the personal issues addressed, in areas that require very sensitive handling.  I imagine you need to cast really skilled actors in such an intense two-hander.

WHR:           Heather Stockwell is a drama teacher and has played many leading roles with local societies, most recently appearing as Morticia in The Addams Family at Richmond Theatre for BROS.  Brendan Leddy is a regular performer at Hampton Hill Theatre, most recently as one of the award-winning pairing in Stones in His Pockets for TTC.  Both have brought their serious skillsets to this production and have achieved a collective greater than the sum of their parts, in learning and presenting this extraordinary play with its comic highs and tragic lows.

TF:                  For all its complexities, Constellations is clearly a play with a human heart.  So, tragedy or comedy: is it a happy play or a sad play?

WHR:           It is neither and both.  It is laugh out loud funny in some universes, tear-jerkingly sad in others, and a little of both elsewhere.  Why not come and see for yourself?

TF:                  I definitely hope to be along to the Hampton Hill Theatre when Constellations opens on Tuesday 18th April.  With only a five-day run it is sure to be a hot ticket.   May I wish you and your company a very successful production.

WHR:           Thank you.  We have certainly found it a very engaging production, and we hope you all will too.

Thomas Forsythe, April 2023

Photography Sarah J Carter

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