WORTH A LOOK?: ****1/2
RUNTIME: 75 minutes (no interval)
WHEN: matinee and evening Sunday 1 August 2021, booking to 12 September 2021
‘Is someone’s alarm going off?’ We’re watching a play and can hear an iPhone alarm going off and, while pleased it’s not ours, Russell Tovey is distracted by it and has come out of character to find out more.
- Read on for reasons including how Tovey and Douglas’ pairing compares with Atim and Jeremiah’s
Constellations is a two-hander about a beekeeper who meets a quantum cosmologist and explores that relationship across multiple potential realities. It means scenes are repeated with different emphases and outcomes and it must be fiendishly difficult to remember and perform.
Perhaps it was unfair of us to decide to catch and review Sheila Atim (Time Is Love, Finborough Theatre) and Ivanno Jeremiah’s final pairing immediately before the 3rd preview performance of Omari Douglas (from TV’s It’s A Sin, making his West End debut) as scientist Manuel and Russell Tovey (Pinter at the Pinter, Harold Pinter Theatre) as beekeeper Roland.
Perhaps as expected, Atim and Jeremiah’s performances are smooth with the latter allowing the former to spark, delight and infuriate with Jeremiah opting predominantly for understated.
Tovey and Douglas have gone for something completely different and seeing the 2 versions so close together makes for a fascinating watch and is an experiment we’re sure author Nick Payne would approve of.
‘It’s a play about could-have-beens and might-have-beens and we’ve just had a whole year of those,’ writes the Donmar’s Artistic Director Michael Longhurst in the programme. ‘And as a gay man, it’s really moving to watch Russell Tovey and Omari Douglas do it, in a play where nobody dies of AIDS, and it’s not about all the issues that you normally get to see in a ‘gay play’. For me personally, that feels rare and important. It’s not just a boy-meets-girl story anymore.’
In fact it’s interesting how little has changed in the text between the 2 versions, Marianne becomes Manuel, and Tovey’s character Roland has a wife in 1 of the realities but other than that the play remains largely unaltered.
However, Tovey makes more of the difference in class and education between the 2 men. Their relationship is more physical than Atim and Jeremiah’s and Tovey opts for a more obvious comedy than any of the 3 other participants.
It’s fascinating to see how lines which were devastating in 1 version become less so in another. Director Longhurst has done a great job in not imposing 1 view of how the play should be performed on to the cast which means it is well worth going to see this multiple times as we did.
Particularly memorable are the multiple scenes in which beekeeper Roland draws on his professional experience to propose, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, to the surprised cosmologist.
Peter Capaldi and Zoe Wanamaker have completed their run but Anna Maxwell Martin and Chris O’Dowd take up the baton from 6 August through to 12 September.
Constellations is a play also about illness and loss of memory so the disruption caused by that alarm from the audience couldn’t have been more difficult for a new cast who showed their mettle by coping with it brilliantly.