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by on 20 April 2023

Relativity and Sensuality


by Nick Payne

OHADS at the Hampton Hill Theatre until 22nd April

Review by Steve Mackrell

Is our future pre-determined?  Or, being mere mortals, can we make our own free choices in life?  This is the conundrum explored in Nick Payne’s modern classic with both wit and intelligence, a play simultaneously challenging and funny, but ultimately very poignant.  First performed at the Royal Court Theatre in 2012, the critically acclaimed Constellations also enjoyed a brief West End revival in 2021 with the novelty of four different rotating casts, including an all-male pairing.  The play is a two-hander, and is a tragic-comic love story, using the dramatic device of parallel universes – meaning separate worlds co-existing with the real world.

OHAD’s production of Constellations, at Hampton Hill Theatre, is delivered with style and impact by director Wes Henderson Roe.  Potentially, this seems a simple love story between Marianne (Heather Stockwell) a quantum physicist, and Roland (Brendan Leddy), a beekeeper.  After meeting at a friend’s barbecue and forming a relationship, we follow them on their evolving romantic journey from beginning to end – except that along the journey we explore different timelines; in other words, we witness the triggering of different permutations which arise from key moments in their relationship. 

Wesley Henderson Roe, as director, has a firm grip on proceedings – we see a multitude of beautifully executed scenes – the initial “asking out” segments, the seduction segments, the proposal segments, and the learning to ballroom dance segments.  With all these separate mini episodes, the pace is kept brisk as the action switches effortlessly from scene to scene with different layers of intensity, and emotions laid increasingly bare.  What begins as variations of a couple’s new, sparkling, exciting and witty relationship – slowly morphs into variations of the couple’s darker, richer and ultimately sadder moments. 

Brendan Leddy’s beekeeper and Heather Stockwell’s physicist bounce off each other with sensitive and sensual chemistry, as they move between countless episodes of various this way-that way imaginations of their developing relationship and the possible outcomes from their conversations.  They take turns in being the protagonist, the counterfoil or the stooge – they conjure up sexual tension in discussing the theory of relativity and wallowing in thoughts about radiation left over from the big bang.  Intellectually erotic and good comic timing – what’s not to like?

The intensity of the acting was maintained throughout this nigh-on flawless seventy-minute non-interval play.  Perhaps a piece of theatre more suited to the intimacy of HHT’s upstairs Coward Room, but by use of an extended apron, replacing the first two rows of the main auditorium, the action was able to engage more closely with the audience – especially effective in the intense closing scenes.  However, we always felt near enough to the actors to appreciate the nuances in their acting, be it a withering look, a sly observation or a despairing side glance.  A word of praise also about one particular captivating scene, beautifully observed, of an exchange totally expressed in sign language.  Another mesmerising scene is where the beekeeper explains the life cycle of the bee and the role of the worker, drone and queen – but explained with four or five different variations depending in which universe he’s in – and each devastatingly funny.

This was an intelligent and engrossing play from the beginning, with its playful repartee of the difficulty in licking your elbow, via musing on whether everything we’ve ever done still exists, to an end that pulls at the heart-strings.

Given the episodic nature of Constellations, the punctuation between the scenes was especially critical, and it was the lighting and sound which helped move the play effortlessly from over here to over there, and equally, from that time to this time.  The soundtrack, composed and sourced by Jacob Taylor, full of mechanical throbbing and pounding heartbeats, enhanced the production.  The lighting design by Ed Pagett, another vital component, also added to the intensity of the piece.  The set was simple – a sofa and two wooden blocks – and unlike the original production with helium balloons which finally deflate and fall to the ground – here the set was dominated, to great effect, by a huge illuminated hexagonal outline – a shape replicated in patterns on the flooring. 

Fierce and funny, perhaps evoking memories of Groundhog Day and Sliding Doors, this OHADS production is one not to be missed.  The play has only recently been released for amateur production and this fast paced well observed production is certainly worthy of professional standards.  If you’re smitten by the sound of it – then please go and see it!!

Steve Mackrell, April 2023

Photography by Sarah J Carter

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