Stage review: Constellations, Duke of York's

Constellations124.jpg

STAGE
Constellations
Duke Of York's Theatre
★★★★★

IN A NUTSHELL
Two lovers have enough problems getting it together without getting messed around by the multiverse.

REVIEW
If there were to be a stage play that combined the themes of honey bees and quantum mechanics, two boxes on my list of Perfect Plays would be ticked.

And so there was. Humble Boy in 2001 did just that. I have watched the ink of the ticks fade for a decade wondering if the winning bee/particle combo was played out and done. Until this week.

Constellations is a different product altogether from Charlotte Jones' grand work - for a start the bees are not the thing and the quantum world is but a smart structural device.

Instead, Constellations, directed by Michael Longhurst, concerns itself with examination of another of nature's great enigmas - the inept and magnificent human heart.

Writer Nick Payne has used the implications of quantum mechanics - that every decision taken or not taken is played out in another universe - to construct a winning and poignant two-hander. All that in 70 minutes straight through (and that's a third box ticked).

The stuttering romance of scientist Mirianne and beekeeper Roland suffers enough trials without the intervention of the multiverse repeating crucial moments as distorted echoes - adding layer upon layer of drama, pathos and confusion.

These brief encounters live on Tom Scutt's stage, empty except for a ceiling of balloons. But this is no celebration and they may not even be balloons.

As they light up, they became the very particles that mangle space-time and, as illness grips, they possess the fizzing agony of misfiring neurons.

Payne has eschewed the Sliding Doors conceit - two separate paths. Instead, he goes for the juddering phase shifts of nuance.

The same scene - of flirtation, of row, of crisis - is played again and again with the characters nimbly adopting a different attitude, sometimes juggling roles between them.

Two people, on a stage, conjuring worlds. It almost justifies the existence of theatre on its own.

But I've saved the best till last.

The performances of Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall are sublime; their comic touch impeccable, their grasp of the drama moving, their chemistry palpable.

Spall's trademark laconic hangdog is taken for a long walk as is Hawkins' cheerfully gauche naif. But the demands of the narrative mean they need to turn their performances on an atom and become someone else in a flash. Harder, angrier, wearier.

Their execution of these about-turns could prove an irritation but ends up a charming marvel.

The multiverse means I'm fated to see this play an infinite number of times. Not. A. Chore.

Until Jan 5. Go to atgtickets.com