mon 20/09/2021

Constellations, Vaudeville Theatre review - multiple casts continue to shine | reviews, news & interviews

Constellations, Vaudeville Theatre review - multiple casts continue to shine

Constellations, Vaudeville Theatre review - multiple casts continue to shine

The gay couple and the O'Dowd option bring new laughs and tears to cosmic comedy

The sex life of bees vs quantum physics: Omari Douglas and Russell Tovey find the hotness in infinite possibilitiesMarc Brenner

This week is peak time to test out Nick Payne’s hypothesis of life as a series of accidents, narrow squeaks and near misses. While the Perseids are doing their August explosive thing, go home after the show and look in the night sky with a lover, and see whether both of you see the same shooting star – what are the chances?

Not a lot, according to bored cosmic scientist Marianne, who has attracted master-beekeeper Roland with a chat-up line about licking one's elbow whose chance of success is surely even unlikelier than you and your lover catching the same flash in the sky.

But Payne’s delightful comedy, Constellations, is all about imponderables where science and human beings tend to cancel each other out. Though daily language is full of quantum physics – narrow squeaks, in another life, once upon a time, what if? – we're ordinarily as oblivious to multiple possibilities as bees in hives, whose apian life (Roland apologetically explains) boils down to women work and men have sex.

Habituated to a world of such ordained and linear simplicity, he is wildly aroused by Marianne’s conception of everything as being only one of a limitless number of possibilities (like rolling a dice 6,000 times), and a very funny sex scene ensues.

Tovey proves that less is more in his own performance - so comic, but also so real

How did two such different people make it together? In the sketchy plot, they move in together, betray each other, marry, and then one gets brain cancer. All the way through, though, we’re seeing the decisive moments and choices that got them to the next step – the discarded options, too, that Marianne is on about, and which are as central to her work understanding the cosmos as they are peripheral in human real life.

Constellations embroiders on Groundhog Day and Sliding Doors, with added bees and cosmic physics – and the summer’s vivid restaging of Payne’s 2012 charmer has added a further level of human (and theoretical) interest by rotating four casts through the two-hander. Already two sets of answers have been provided by a young, black couple and an older, white pair and now two more beekeepers and quantum physicists can be found at the Vaudeville for the rest of the summer, one pair being noised as the gay variant of a so-far hetero romance, and the other as the Chris O’Dowd option.

The comedy flies thick and fast in both, with entirely different accents, and showing that sexuality has nothing to do with it – it’s the particular way you try to lick your elbow that does, and good luck to scientists in quantifying that. The extravagant, stringy Omari Douglas – divinely costumed by Tom Scutt – waggles his long tongue in a blatant invitation to the stolid Russell Tovey who wavers between killing embarrassment and eager response. Alternatively, awkward fortyish academic Anna Maxwell Martin’s elbow pitch at O’Dowd comes across poignantly as a clumsy hybrid between a science lecture topic and a tip she came across on a dating forum. The masterful Irish comedian breaks the fourth wall, and we in the audience all flinch with him. Then he butts elbows with her, and we're bang up to date.

The 50 little scenes dash by, in threes or fives, as each happening shows possible tiny variations, where one microscopic difference led the couple onwards together, and the others would have sent them hurtling into oblivious lives. This becomes less playful and more meaningful when clever Marianne – or Manuel, Douglas’s male alternative – discovers a brain tumour that is eating away at her/his ability to speak and control her/his life.

In Douglas’s performance, the terror and need is wrapped distractingly within his signature floridness, making Tovey’s attempts to reach him extremely touching. Tovey proves that less is more in his own performance – so comic, but also so real. He is, and will be, bereft when the startling Douglas is gone, and he may well find the predictability of beehives is no longer enough for him.Chris O'Dowd, Anna Maxwell Martin, Constellations, Vaudeville, pic Marc BrennerThe newest cast, Maxwell Martin and O’Dowd (pictured above), show longer years of self-containment and emotional lonership in their performances, whose subtleties will surely only grow in the run. The sick Marianne’s tragedy is her defeatist resignation to having no one to rely on, and there’s a hint that this social condition is what primarily drives the trips to Dignitas. But in Roland’s supportive but brief responses to her breakdown, O’Dowd interestingly shows how a habitual lack of curiosity about one’s partner may be decisive for a relationship when the chips are down.

Director Michael Longhurst deserves acclaim for achieving such integrity and emotional balance in such contrasting casts and readings – and both pairs wring immense entertainment out of Payne’s light-penned script. But it’s Russell Tovey, with his round ears sticking out like bee’s wings, who steals the show for me.

@ismeneb

'Constellations' embroiders on 'Groundhog Day' and 'Sliding Doors', with added bees and cosmic physics

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Average: 5 (1 vote)

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