Constellations by Nick Payne – Royal Court Theatre – Review


Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall

A script for Nick Payne’s previous play Wanderlust, was in a “lucky dip” bundle I got from the Royal Court Theatre’s bookshop last June. I enjoyed reading it and so as I made my way past the helium filled balloons that fill the corridor leading to the Royal Court Jerwoood Theatre Upstairs, I was looking forward to his latest play.

The large black rectangular stage dominates the space with the audience seated all around it. The ceiling is a canopy of white balloons of various sizes and strange music is being piped through akin to something that might be heard in a beauty spa in an attempt to relax you.

What follows is 1hr 10 mins of confusion where the two characters act out various different ways their lives/situations could go. The acting of Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall was good as they grappled with playing out the same scene but reacting/acting in opposing ways to how they just had.

This was the weakness in the play, they’re acting out the same thing repeatedly. A sign that I’m not enjoying the play is if I take a sneaky glance at my watch to see how much longer is to go. I did that after 25 mins today. I just found this was like watching a class at a drama college where two actors are doing an exercise rather than a play. We’re promised on the back of the script a play “about free will and friendships; it’s about quantum multiverse theory, love and honey.” Well there all mentioned, talked about at some point but it was just too repetitive to be entertaining or engaging.

There were some moments when some of the ideas worked and a few laugh out loud moments too. As a whole though it just didn’t seem to work as a play. I think this is one of those things that sounded good as an idea but practically doesn’t work. It should have been workshopped or done as an exercise for drama students, not put on as a play. I left with an indifference to the whole thing, which is a shame.

I’m sure they’ll be a coterie who will say “You didn’t get it”, or  “you’re not open enough” to get it, or  “you can’t appreciate its cleverness” etc. etc. Sorry that won’t rub with me. It’s just a poor piece of writing and as over the 1hr 10 mins most of it is repeated several times there’s probably only 20 mins worth of actual writing there if truth be told. As I said good idea trying to look at multiple outcomes and tying it to quantum multiverse theory, it has just not been realised with this production. It’s perhaps too clever for its own good.

STARS : * *


10 thoughts on “Constellations by Nick Payne – Royal Court Theatre – Review

  1. Never saw the play but read the play, and echo what has been said, one hundred per cent and more. Forget the helium balloons and the set, concentrate on the script and the storyline. Repeated dialogue is never good. A total turn off. However, I understand that the ‘play’ is to transfer to the west end towards the end of the year, so there must be people out there that think it worth going further. Good luck to Nick Payne, who I think is a talented young writer, seen some of his other stuff, and it was much better, both on the page, and on the stage.

  2. hi read today that it was transferring to West End today too, can’t believe it. When there are other more deserving plays from Theatre Upstairs that should have been transferred before this one.

  3. Read the play again last night, to ensure I had not made some terrible mistake in not being in agreement with the media hype surrounding the play, and questioning why it has been given a west end staging later in the year. And I have to say unequivocally that my previous comments stand. Again to reiterate, take nothing away from Nick Payne, he is a really good young writer, who I am sure will contribute to the English stage for many years to come with some memorable stuff. Just not this one for me.

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  5. Yeah… I don’t think you got it. I think it’s an interesting concept as a play – I actually quite liked seeing the repetition and the words delivered in different ways. But perhaps it’s more aimed at the daydreamers among us who love that kind of big thinking of all the things that could’ve happened and not happened in our lives – a la The Butterfly Effect. 🙂

      • Fair enough, but on the flipside, it’s all the events that conspired for you to be where you are now. Change any of it, and who knows where you might’ve ended up? But if that kind of thinking doesn’t appeal to you, then Constellations probably won’t affect you in the same way.

      • Actually I enjoy that kind of thinking – I just think Constellations didn’t do it any justice or take me anywhere interesting with it.

      • It’s possible that the play has altered from when you saw it. One review I read, the author had seen it 3 times in various incarnations and said that in this most recent one, there was more diversity in how the scenes were played – more toying with intonation etc.

  6. Yes it seems to have been adapted/altered as I’ve read some other recent reviews that seem to be literally describing a totally different play. I saw it very early on. I may be persuaded to revisit it, you never know 🙂

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