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Photo by Gez Xavier Mansfield

Darlinghurst Theatre Company presents CONSTELLATIONS by Nick Payne at the Eternity Playhouse, Darlinghurst. 8 August – 7 September.

CONSTELLATIONS by Nick Payne, directed by Anthony Skuse at the Eternity Playhouse, is just the kind of play and production that we have been awaiting to happen in this new space, after an inaugural season of repeats and unsatisfactory productions. A new work. A challenging work. A well written, well directed and well acted evening in the theatre.

The Play is the Thing, I always say.

And, firstly, CONSTELLATIONS is an astonishing PLAY. It concerns the meeting of Roland (Sam O’Sullivan) and Marianne (Emma Palmer) at a barbecue, and then traces their relationship through to its  near end. It has a classic rom-com ‘spine’, with a very powerful, funny and, ultimately, emotional wallop. Add, some stimulating science theory and demonstration, and a provocative and enlightening time can be had.

Roland is a beekeeper – a fairly ordinary, but charming, happy bloke. Marianne is a scientist investigating, amongst other things, string theory and the idea of the ‘multiverse’. This text, playing for about 80, or so minutes, introduces the meeting and subsequent journeys of these two people, and examples string theory, which, works not on the idea of time as linear (as we know it), but as a possibility of loops. Thus, for example, that first barbecue encounter, in the play, is played for us in many different versions: word changes, misapprehensions, tone etc that can, does, all lead to different possibilities – an idea of a “… hypothetical set of possible universes (including the historical universe we consistently experience) that together comprise everything that exists and can exist …” It is an intriguing experience to sit in a theatre in Sydney, and be asked to THINK – grapple with scientific theories of some import; entomological observations of bees – whilst, because of the repetitions of the possibles in the given events of the play, we become deeply emotionally attached to Roland and Marianne. Our ‘objective’ brain and our ‘subjective’ brain simultaneously integrated to a wonder filled catharsis.

Secondly, the two performances of the two actors, Mr O’Sullivan and Ms Palmer are an exemplar of technical prowess and interdependent empathy. Ms Palmer riding through the many ‘games’ of possibilities with Mr O’Sullivan, also, then, takes on impeccably and seamlessly the verbal and thinking symptoms of an encroaching illness, expressive aphasia, that Marianne discovers she is suffering from. It is a focused and disciplined tour de force from Ms Palmer, beautifully supported and counter-pointed by Mr O’Sullivan. Worth catching, sharing.

Thirdly, Mr Skuse, in his careful approach to the complexities of the writer, has created with his Designer, Gez Xavier Mansfield, a simple raked floor space, whilst stripping back the stage area to the actual building’s ‘sacred’ remnants, which gives the play an imaginative boost into the realm of the constellations of the wonders of the universe. Sara Swerksky’s lighting is luminous and deft in creating the illusions of time changes, leaps and repeats of action. Marty Jamieson’s simple sound design, too, assists us in adjusting to the textual ‘games’ – although the Overture (from, The Barber of Seville- 1816) seemed a little too bombastic for what was to come.

Several weeks ago while talking of EVERY SECOND, also, presented here in this theatre, I alluded to the great and intelligent writing happening around the world and opined the output of our Australian repertoire that the ‘gatekeepers’ are letting through onto our stages. Nick Payne is one of many of the new voices from elsewhere. His new play INCOGNITO, too, is a stunner, as is, apparently, his 45 minute monologue, presented at the Royal Court, in July: THE ART OF DYING. That the Independent Theatre scene is finding and presenting play scripts of such quality, in productions of such integrity, is a growing power and alternative choice for Sydney audiences, to the major, funded companies, and their less satisfactory play choices and productions.

Do not miss this play.

Go early, for it is, truly, worth a second visit.

Intricate, intellectually stimulating and moving.