Photo: Marc Brenner

Nick Payne’s complicated two-hander has opened at London’s Vaudeville Theatre, directed by Michael Longhurst.

Constellations is not a straightforward play. It tells the story of lovers Roland and Marianne – or rather, their multiple possible stories. Over the course of 70 minutes we explore a wide variety of scenarios after the pair meet at a barbecue – many of the subsequent scenes play out four or five times over, and the narrative is non-linear as we jump backwards and forwards in time before hurtling off in a different direction entirely. To add a further layer, Constellations is being performed by four different couples over the summer – on press night we saw Peter Capaldi with Zoe Wanamaker, but audiences can opt to see Sheila Atim with Ivanno Jeremiah, Russell Tovey with Omari Douglas, or Anna Maxwell Martin with Chris O’Dowd.

It’s a play which demands focus – proceedings move at a lightning pace. Scenes and moods shift in the blink of an eye with simply a sound effect or a change of the lighting. The show doesn’t shy away from some serious and difficult subject matter, yet is full of lighthearted and humorous moments. There’s a lot to take in and some of the repeated scenes are only subtly different, at least at first. It can feel a little disorientating initially but as we adjusted to the format we started to enjoy it a lot more.

It’s a really smart concept for a show and we were invested in their stories – we couldn’t wait to see how each scenario played out. Whether they clicked when they met, or whether they didn’t; whether they stayed together, or separated; whether he had an affair, or she had an affair, and how the other would react; seeing the same scenes repeated in a jokey way, or a serious way, or an angry way – it was interesting to consider all the different possibilities. It’s a play that asks “what if?” a hundred times over – while we may ask ourselves that question on a regular basis, we can only ever make our choices once, so it’s fascinating to observe all the different plausible outcomes of the multiverse unfold.

We enjoyed our evening with Constellations. The concept can feel a little overwhelming at first, and it really demands complete concentration from its audience, so we’d suggest this isn’t one for those who just want to sit back and relax with a couple of drinks on a Friday night. But it’s a fascinating exploration of all of life’s possibilities – and while Peter Capaldi and Zoe Wanamaker are both superb in their respective roles, we’re intrigued to see the dynamics of the other couples performing this show over the coming months. Fascinating stuff.

GAY TIMES gives Constellations – 4/5

More information can be found here.