Tuesday, December 5

Constellations – Altrincham Garrick Playhouse

The idea of a multiverse of alternate realities, each offering slightly different versions of our existence has become a very familiar trope in film and theatre. The Marvel Studios blockbuster superhero capers are the most successful recent iteration of this oeuvre, but classic movies (It’s a Wonderful Life, A Matter of Life and Death), comedies (Back to the Future, Groundhog Day) and less auspicious examples (I’m looking at you ‘Sliding Doors’), all play with the idea of how small decisions in life can change outcomes in a big way.

In 2012, writer Nick Payne took the premise of a chance meeting of a Beekeeper and a String Theory scientist at a barbecue and created ‘Constellations’ for the Royal Court Theatre. Weaving a fantastical tale of ‘if’, ‘but’ and ‘maybe’ which is both hilarious and heart-breaking in equal measure, he took complex theoretical physics and made it accessible through a simple romantic storyline. Now, under the direction of Lauriston debutant Director Pete Brassington, this thought-provoking piece has the chance to be appreciated by a Manchester audience.

The compact dimensions of the Lauriston Studio (49 seats) work to the advantage of this play, allowing the nuanced performances of both Marianne (Antonia Whitehead) and Roland (Jamie Sloan), to be seen up close. The minimal set consisting of paper globes hanging overhead against a black box backdrop, creates a feeling of the actors being suspended in space, ethereal and timeless.

Marianne and Roland play out a myriad of alternative realities as their relationship develops, by turns comical, angry and regretful, as we piece together the arc of the story over the course of one act and 70 minutes on stage. Whitehead initially is the stronger character, rude, forthright and funny in the initial stages (excellent joke about a dwarf star), before moving into an altogether more heartfelt portrayal as the story progresses. Sloan shows the initial shy diffidence of Roland to excellent effect, the marriage proposal scene being a highlight, then shifts gears effectively to display confusion, anger and finally resignation as the fate of the characters is revealed. The swift changes of mood and emphasis present in the writing are a challenge to any actor and both rise to the occasion splendidly, riffing in a style that is veristic and relaxes the audience in such a small theatre.

The naturalistic manner of acting that the writing imposes is juxtaposed against the highbrow conceptualism of the premise, however the opposition in style perversely works to excellent effect. Director Brassington has decided to use two casts concurrently during this run (a nod to the Donmar Production of 2021), and it will be fascinating to see the different take Imogen Kite and Jacob Taylor bring to the same roles on the alternate nights they perform.

Overall, a beautifully structured piece of writing which conveys complex themes with humour and pathos, without ever descending into mawkish sentimentality. Spare direction allowed the language to take centre stage, performed by two talented actors with excellent chemistry and rapport.

Constellations continues until Sunday 6th February https://www.altrinchamgarrick.co.uk/shows/constellations/

Reviewer: Paul Wilcox

Reviewed: 1st February 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★