Constellations, Frome Drama, Merlin Theatre

SOMETIMES things fall into place, are of their time, when you couldn’t know this was going to happen, and the parties involved could not know, so it is a co-incidence whose time has come. Perhaps it is a consequence of the times we live in and the uncertainty that hovers over everything.

In the space of one week, we saw Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen, with its huge ethical and scientific themes and playing with Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, read in the Financial Times’ Weekend paper about a new professional production of Nick Payne’s Constellations, with four different pairs of actors playing the two characters, and saw a production of the same play, by Frome Drama.

Like Copenhagen, Constellations has a character who is a quantum physicist. Both plays challenge not only our ability to grapple with complex ideas – quantum mechanics, nuclear fission, cosmology, string theory – but also our understanding of how and why we make choices and where those choices may take us.

Are we the only ones of our kind in an uncaring universe or are we the tiniest atoms in an infinite multiverse?

Both plays play with time. Copenhagen moves backwards and forwards between the wartime and postwar meetings of its three protagonists, with each character looking back from beyond the grave. It examines how memory elides and erases, how three people can hear and remember very different words and moods.

Constellations takes the time displacement to another level – the two characters meet again and again, with different outcomes and emotional impact, they part, or do they? They meet again, or do they? They are torn apart by fatal illness, or they simply move on.

It is a fascinating, brilliant, funny, shocking play. How do any actors – professional or amateur – master its constantly changing repetitive dialogue? And having mastered the words, how do they inhabit these very different people – the quantum physicist with string theory at her fingertips and the beekeeper who sees life on a more primal, natural level.

Director Andy Cork says: “Have you ever wondered how your life could have turned out if those key events in your life had been different? What would your life have been like if you had gone to a different school; had different teachers even?”

Marianne (Stephanie Mitchell) and Roland (Ben Hardy-Phillips) meet at a barbecue. That is really the only thing that we are certain about. How and where their relationship takes them from that point is the business of the play – does Marianne ask Roland to go home with her, does he go, does she ask him not to stay … do they meet again …

What is essential is that we believe in the chemistry of these two very different people – the mercurial scientist and the down-to-earth bee-keeper (even his yellow top and black trousers suggest a connection to his bees).

Gripping and powerful, touching, funny and deeply humane – Frome Drama’s talented duo and their director created a memorable performance of a modern masterpiece.

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