Constellations is full of ‘What Ifs?’, hanging like so many white balloons in the air. The biggest What If, is What If there are parallel dimensions and the concept of a linear Past, Present, Future timeline does not exist. The smaller What Ifs are all of tiny twists that could have happened had a conversation gone one tiny bit differently. What If he hadn’t had a partner when we met at the party? What If we’d met again and she’d taken me up on the offer of a drink? What If the surgeon had said ‘It’s nothing to worry about’ instead of what they did say?
We tend to think of our lives as a map of distances between The Big Decisions, the times when you took that degree, moved to that house, got married to that woman. But in between those moments are all the tiny moments that lead to them happening. The train arriving on time so you made that open day at that university, and not the other one. Or the chance moment when he quoted your favourite song in a presentation you sat in the audience for and not, as could have happened, where he chose a song she liked instead. Constellations sails back and forth between the universes in which these same-but-different moments exist. It tells us the over-arching story of Marianne (Louise Brealey) and Roland (Joe Armstrong) whose trajectory still marches somewhat forward, even whilst we bare witness to the unfinished strings of other What Ifs hanging in parallel universe mid-air.
At a mere 70 minutes without an interval the play is beautifully concise, offering but a vanishing glimpse through the window into Roland and Marianne’s lives. Given the basic conceit of the show – repeated dialogue and moments continually re-imagined – the decision not to have an interval is surely the correct one and demonstrates a quietly confident restraint on the part of the production team. As Molly in Sherlock, Brealey succeeded in making a potentially periphery role into one of the most subtly complex and engrossing characters in the series. Here, as part of a two-person show, she again performs in a manner which makes Marianne seem simultaneously like someone deadly familiar, yet also completely unique when cut through with moments of electricity. Armstrong is a grounding opposite to her nervous emotions and it is only on the way home that you start to wonder what will happen to him at the end of these events.
Constellations is a marvellous demonstration of how a production can interact with all the Big Questions without making a bloody big deal about it. This is an emotional show of love and grief, yet there is a strange prevailing calm about the evening. Calmness like when you pause to watch a bird that has landed close to where you sit. Anticipating its next move, you hardly breathe; flattered they have chosen to let you fleetingly into their world. It flickers, skips and hops in no given pattern and in that one moment, time is stopped.