Constellations, written by Nick Payne, is an ode to possibility. The first SUDS show since March, the play – directed by Declan Coyle and assistant directed by Pratha Nagpal – explores the hundreds of ways in which life could turn out for Marianne and Roland, played by Zoe Clarke and Stuart Robinson.
With social distancing measures capping The Cellar Theatre’s audience at fifteen, the space looked bigger and emptier than I had ever seen it. Emily Brophy’s set design transformed the theatre’s black walls into the backdrop of a galaxy, wonderfully blending glitter and minimalistic colours together.
Sam Cheng’s sound design was essential, the music sometimes being the only clear distinguishment of a break between scenes. Cheng’s design substituted for the grounding in physical space the abstract set failed to provide, the immersive experience creating the illusions of crowded parks and bustling dance studios. Sophie Morrissey’s lighting design was also commendable, with distinct colour palettes potraying the highs of excitement and lows of chronic illness.
The script in itself is vulnerable. The play made me long for the comforting awkwardness of first conversations, ache for the accustomed unfamiliarity of a broken heart, and grieve for the helplessness one feels when faced with an unchangeable circumstance. Clarke and Robinson portrayed two lovers in infinite universes, with short scenes showcasing how life would have played out if one thing had been different. The repetition and snippets of conversations played out like an overthinker’s bedtime ritual, with quick and witty dialogue instantly turning to screaming and despair.
However, parts of the play that could have been truly devastating occasionally fell flat due to Robinson’s lack of expression. Clarke’s Marianne was energetic, but slightly inarticulate at times. Surprisingly, the scenes that were deliberately awkward were my favourite – Clarke’s incredulous expressions hilariously playing off Robinson’s clumsy delivery.
But there were certain moments whose brilliance stood out, moments that were painfully human – when Roland was unable to distinguish between anger and insecurity, when Marianne sat on the floor and shook with the terror of facing her own mortality; when both of them, together, live out all of their lives in the span of an hour.
A show focusing so heavily on two characters and the infinite possibilities they could have encountered during the course of their lifetime is difficult to get right. There were often times where I found the sequence of scenes to be incoherent, which was to be expected in a show so heavily focused on infinitesimal changes creating worlds of difference. But this is not to draw focus from all the things the show accomplished. In many scenes, Clarke and Robinson expertly conveyed the processing of complex emotions, such as those that come in the aftermath of an intense argument with a partner, emphasising the unexpected things we find ourselves fixating on.
Constellations is about parallel universes, about people who end up in each other’s lives no matter what, about every what-if that two people could ever wonder about. Despite its infrequent missteps, SUDS’ production is an engaging and intriguing work of student theatre.
Constellations will be running at the Cellar Theatre until October 24th.