Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

cast top shot

Shaun Dodd as Roland and Joanne Newton is Marianne


Hall Green Little Theatre


Reality is how we remember it, whether we recall it rightly or wrongly, that is what happened, unless we remember it differently if it comes up again in a time to come, when that new recollection becomes the reality of what happened, which all goes to show the shifting sands of time and space within the mind.

Nick Payne’s play feeds on this dichotomy of reality and recollection by taking a simple, if unlikely, love story and giving it a multifaceted collection of possibilities.

Joanne Newton is Marianne, young, attractive and a quantum-physicist. It is a wonderful performance. She manages to at times infuriate, at others tug at the heartstrings and how you feel for her at the end.

Shaun Dodd is Roland, a beekeeper, which is about as far as you can get from quantum-physics – one harnessing and working with nature, the other challenging and confronting it.

He is the other side of what turns out to be a far more intense relationship than we expected in another exceptional performance in this two hander – indeed it is the superb acting by this pair which demands the star rating.

Now quantum-physics is all about alternative realities, explanations of things science struggles to explain, how any event can have several parallel outcomes all at the same time, time being flexible of course, it’s a world of multiverses, of the possibility of things being in different places at the same time . . . with proof, incontrovertible proof, perhaps as distant as the farthest edge of a universe whose creation and origin relies on the latest version of the latest theory relying on theoretical physics.

Meanwhile on our small planet in the cosmos, Marianne and Roland meet at a barbeque, she knew the host, Jane, at Uni, Roland plays football with Jane’s brother-in-law Tom . . . the first time around. 

Joanne Newton's Marianne sees the world differently, a series of possibilities that can exist independently

Scenes are repeated sometimes with subtle changes, sometimes with huge contradictions, challenging our reality of what is happening – it must be a nightmare for actors to both learn and interpret and this pair never faltered.

We see their first date, then their relationship falling apart, blame changing with each version, ballroom classes see a reunion, a marriage and an illness, all seen; like Groundhog Day on speed, in repeated yet changed scenes – the proof, in its loosest usage, that in Marianne’s multiverse the same events can exist simultaneously and have different outcomes.

By the second act the pace of change is less frenetic. In the first act a recurring theme was Marianne’s reluctance to go back to work, her tiredness, her inability to remember words even when speaking.

By the second act that condition has become reality, and she is reduced to communicating by broken sentences, then single words then speech by computer . . . in the final version. It is a reminder of the terrible power a writer has over his characters, the power of life and death, continue along the lines of one scene and the diagnosis is rosy with a happy ending well within grasp, develop the second line and we are in the dark arena of Dignitas and assisted dying and your heart goes out to Marianne and to Roland in what is a deeply moving finale.

In Marianne’s world free will is part of the multiverse, so we could, in theory, that word again, reject the ending provided and go for happy, or even construct our own – but sometimes presented reality has become just too embedded to change.

To that end writer Payne takes us back to the beginning and we close with an opening scene of the pair initially  meeting once again, going back to a time when the story we have just seen has yet to be told.

Payne wrote the play shortly after his father’s death and at a time when he met his future wife, so the sense of loss of one relationship and the growth of another was his reality at the time.


Shaun Dodd's Roland is a beekeeper where life is simpler - workers, drones, a queen in a never changing cycle

The play creates some confusion, an unease, short scenes repeated are not something we expect in theatre except by mistake and the cast do well to make each variation appear as different, stand alone scenes rather than merely acting exercises or try outs of emphasis. Any one of the takes from scene A could meld with any take from scene B in our multiverse moving the story on along a path of endless possibilities, with the one chosen with a view to asking the most questions of us, the audience.

It encompasses, at least in its construction, quantum mechanics, relativity, the multiverse, string theory . . . not that science hangs around the play’s neck like the ancient mariner’s albatross. They are background noise but at its heart this is a love story and even with the tragic end there are plenty of moments of humour, laugh out loud at times.

The set, from Jon Richardson and Steve Fisher is minimalist to the extreme. Two plain black cubes stage right, one elongated black box stage left, whose only purpose is to be something to sit on. Sound is an atmospheric slow piano between each scene.

So don’t be put off by the aurora of theoretical physics even the experts have difficulty explaining, you are not in for a lecture, far from it, what you get is a love story, plain and simple, and once you accept that then you can sit back and enjoy and time will, relatively of course, fly by.

Directed by Richard Scott, Constellations will be seen in the night sky to 10-02-24.

Roger Clarke


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