Following critically acclaimed, sold-out runs in the West End and on Broadway, Nick Payne’s explosive play about free will and friendship returns to London for a strictly limited season following its first national tour.
Starring Louise Brealey (Sherlock) and Joe Armstrong (Happy Valley), and directed by the award-winning Michael Longhurst (Carmen Disruption, A Number), Constellations is a beautiful portrayal of one relationship and infinite possibilities.
It’s a play about small talk and big ideas. It’s about saying goodbye and about never having to say goodbye. It’s about the boundless potential of a connection between two people. It’s a heart-breaking love story of endless invention.
Don’t miss your opportunity to see this ‘funny, tender and startlingly original work’ (Daily Telegraph) from one of the most exciting new voices in theatre.
Running Time: 70 minutes without interval 5 stars “Ingenious and beautiful. Truly stellar.” Evening Standard 5 stars “Genius. Powerful. Pitch-perfect.” The Daily Telegraph 5 stars “Extraordinary. Dazzling.” Independent 5 stars “Stars shine across the universe.” Guardian 5 stars “It is brilliant. Extremely funny. Utterly heart-breaking.” Time Out
Joe Armstrong plays Roland. He last appeared at the Royal Court in The Empire. His other stage credits include, most recently The Dumb Waiter (Print Room), Miss Julie (Royal Exchange), Flare Path (Haymarket), Orphans (Traverse/Soho) and A Night at the Dogs (Soho). On television, his credits include the BAFTA award-winning drama Happy Valley, The Village, The Hollow Crown: Henry IV pt 1 (directed by Richard Eyre), The Last Detective and Midsomer Murders. His film credits include Closer to the Moon and A Passionate Woman.
Louise Brealey plays Marianne. She last appeared at the Royal Court in Joe Penhall’s Birthday. Other work at the Royal Court includes Behind the Image, The Stone and Sliding With Suzanne. Her previous stage credits include, most recently Miss Julie (Citizens Theatre),The Herd (Bush) and The Trojan Women (The Gate). On television her credits include Sherlock, George Gently, Ripper Street, Father Brown and Bleak House. Her film credits include Heard and Delicious. Louise recently appeared in Letters Live alongside her Sherlock co-star Benedict Cumberbatch at London’s Freemasons’ Hall Covent Garden.
Nick Payne‘s most recent plays at the Royal Court were The Art of Dying and Wanderlust. His other credits include Constellations in the West End and on Broadway, Incognito (HighTide Festival/Bush), Blurred Lines (The Shed NT), The Same Deep Water As Me (Donmar Warehouse) and If There Is I Haven’t Found it Yet (The Bush). He was the winner of the George Devine Award in 2009 and also a member of the Royal Court’s Young Writers Programme. Nick is currently playwright in residence at the Donmar Warehouse. He is currently adapting Julian Barnes’s The Sense Of An Ending for BBC Films and working on projects with Objective, Drama Republic and the BBC.
Michael Longhurst directs. Previously for the Royal Court he directed the original and recent Broadway production of Constellations and Remembrance Day. His other credits include Carmen Disruption (Almeida), Bad Jews (St James’s Theatre/ Arts), Tis Pity She’s A Whore (The Globe), A Number (Young Vic & Southampton), If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet (The Roundabout Theatre NY.), Stovepipe (HighTide/Bush), On The Beach (as part of The Contingency Plan at the Bush Theatre), On The Record (Arcola), dirty butterfly (winner of the Jerwood Directors Award at the Young Vic), 1 In 5 (as part of Daring Pairings at Hampstead Theatre) and Fringe First Award winner for Guardians at the Edinburgh Festival. He was a recipient of the Jerwood Directors Award (2007) at the Young Vic and a Fringe First in 2005.
Select a Date
Dates in July
|Thu 9 Jul||7:30pm||Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY||Tickets from £19.50|
|Fri 10 Jul||7:30pm||Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY||Tickets from £19.50|
|Sat 11 Jul||3:00pm||Saturday Matinees||Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY||Tickets from £19.50|
|Sat 11 Jul||7:30pm||Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY||Tickets from £19.50|
|Mon 13 Jul||7:30pm||Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY||Tickets from £19.50|
|Tue 14 Jul||7:00pm||Press Night||Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY||Tickets from £19.50|
|Wed 15 Jul||7:30pm||Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY||Tickets from £19.50|
|Thu 16 Jul||3:00pm||Mid-Week Matinee||Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY||Tickets from £19.50|
|Thu 16 Jul||7:30pm||Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY||Tickets from £19.50|
|Fri 17 Jul||7:30pm||Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY||Tickets from £19.50|
|Sat 18 Jul||3:00pm||Saturday Matinees||Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY||Tickets from £19.50|
|Sat 18 Jul||7:30pm||Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY||Tickets from £19.50|
|Mon 20 Jul||7:30pm||Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY||Tickets from £19.50|
|Tue 21 Jul||7:30pm||Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY||Tickets from £19.50|
|Wed 22 Jul||7:30pm||Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY||Tickets from £19.50|
|Thu 23 Jul||3:00pm||Mid-Week Matinee||Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY||Tickets from £19.50|
|Thu 23 Jul||7:30pm||Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY||Tickets from £19.50|
|Fri 24 Jul||7:30pm||Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY||Tickets from £19.50|
|Sat 25 Jul||3:00pm||Saturday Matinees||Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY||Tickets from £19.50|
|Sat 25 Jul||7:30pm||Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY||Tickets from £19.50|
|Mon 27 Jul||7:30pm||Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY||Tickets from £19.50|
|Tue 28 Jul||7:30pm||Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY||Tickets from £19.50|
|Wed 29 Jul||7:30pm||Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY||Tickets from £19.50|
|Thu 30 Jul||3:00pm||Mid-Week Matinee||Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY||Tickets from £19.50|
|Thu 30 Jul||7:30pm||Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY||Tickets from £19.50|
|Fri 31 Jul||7:30pm||Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY||Tickets from £19.50|
Dates in August
|Sat 1 Aug||3:00pm||Saturday Matinees||Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY||Tickets from £19.50|
|Sat 1 Aug||7:30pm||Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY||Tickets from £19.50|
Sold out Performances
Royal Court Rate: £35 (no booking fees)
Tickets: £19.50 to £52.50
Concessions: Over 60’s £19.50 (Thu matinees only)
5 stars 14.01.15 The Guardian, Alexis Soloski
Read the full review here to read the full review. 4 stars 14.01.15 Time Out New York, Adam Feldman
Click here to read the full review. 4 stars 13.01.15 Financial Times, Brendan Lemon
Click here to read the full review. 4 stars 13.01.15 USA Today, Elysa Gardner
‘Constellations will pull you in well before its 70 minutes have ended, leaving you shaken and stirred.’
Click here to read the full review. 5 stars The Sunday Times by Maxie Szalwinska, 29th January 2012
‘wondrously supple… a feather-light touch to weighty themes.’ 5 stars The Mail On Sunday by Georgina Brown, 29th January 2012
flirts playfully with serious ideas about physics and metaphysics, randomness, fate, free will and time. It’s very funny and desperately sad and its intellectual and emotional dynamism sweeps you up and carries you along like a surfing wave. Seldom has a play felt so exhilarating…. Michael Longhurst’s dazzling production. 5 stars The Telegraph by Charles Spencer, 20th January 2012
If I see a more ingenious, touching and intellectually searching play than Constellations this year, I will count myself very lucky.
Nick Payne’s drama lasts just over an hour but packs in more than most shows manage in three times that length. It is playful, intelligent and bursting with ideas, but also achieves a powerful undertow of emotion.
He makes a quantum leap with a work that can stand comparison with Tom Stoppard, Michael Frayn and Caryl Churchill at their best.
The genius of the play is that it shows this theory in action. The piece expands into an investigation of free will and the huge role that chance plays in our lives.
All of which might sound academic, but we come to care for both these likeable people deeply. The writing is as funny and humane as it is intellectually rigorous, and tells us as much about honey bees and the blessings of love as it does about cutting-edge scientific theory.
Michael Longhurst directs an illuminatingly lucid production in an auditorium magically filled with floating white balloons that somehow conjure the wonder and the possibilities the play suggests. Completely compelling.
This is a pitch-perfect production of an astonishingly fine new play and it must surely have an extended life beyond the cramped confines of the Theatre Upstairs. 5 stars The Indepedent by Paul Taylor, 20th January 2012
Not since Mike Bartlett’s Cock, so to speak, have I been so exhilarated by a new play premiered at the Royal Court’s Theatre Upstairs.
As I sat through the extraordinary 65 minutes of Nick Payne’s Constellations — performed with uncanny brilliance by Rafe Spall and Sally Hawkins — this sense of slightly incredulous elation was accompanied by the sinking feeling that, as a critic, one would be hard put to begin to do justice to the dazzling way it creates it own rules, while at the same time being wise enough not to jettison the old rule book either.
Cubist visual art crunches together many moments in time within the instantaneous stillness of a picture. Here it’s as if a magic wand has been waved over such a work so that it comes alive, the multiple variations elapsing elastically in the constantly re-angled present tense of stunningly well-deployed stage time.
That description, though, might, misleadingly make the piece sound like hip, updated J B Priestley or Ayckbourn, both of whom have explored the dramatic power of flirting with the the alternative possibilities implicit in every moment. A smartass wag might jest that Payne does not understand the dramaturgical principle of draft-exclusion or, to put it slightly more positively, that he has a strong susceptibility to drafts, given the purposeful prevarication of Constellations and its refusal to discriminate amongst the host of hypothetical variants through which the couple in this two-hander travel. The wag would be wrong.
There are two things that, to my mind, make the piece work on your pulses as well as on your synapses. One is that the link with quantum multiverse theory comes across as deeply felt, unlike, say, the shallow, opportunistic use Charlotte Jones made of string theory in the very overrated Humble Boy. The second is that real pain (no pun intended) seems to be dragged like barbed wire through the guts of these often hilariously juxtaposed variations.
Yes, but who are these people and what do they do and say? I’m loth to reveal too much because I don’t want to spoil it for you. It involves bees, barbecues, picking people up at dance classes, brain tumours, dialogue that develops the haunting quality of a refrain in a story told of out of sequence again and again. Staged on a central, hexagonally tied rectangle, Michael Longhurst’s superb production (how on earth did they rehearse this?) features two performances that are miracles of timing as they dart in and out of knowing inverted commas and effect subtles glissade between beautifully calculated in-on-the knowingness and nakedly unfeigned feeling. There are little lapses from its own high standard but a wonderful achievement all round. 4 stars Time Out by Caroline McGinn, 24th January 2012
Scientific concept literature isn’t new: Tom Stoppard was doing it brilliantly long before numerous apocalyptic examples picketed the runway to the millennium. Nick Payne’s new play follows the basic formula: take girl and boy; synthesise with scientific metaphor; insert disturbing thesis; reheat, and serve!
But there’s nothing undercooked about Michael Longhurst’s excellent, gripping production. And Payne’s play, despite having obviously done its quantum physics and beekeeping homework, is funny, tender and startlingly original.
It’s some achievement to dramatise the theory of parallel universes in 70 minutes, but Rafe Spall and Sally Hawkins, playing numerous subtly different versions of central characters Roland and Marianne, are the stars here.
‘Constellations’ feeds a romance story, iteratively, through dozens of possible choices, permutations and lives. It works because of fine acting and because it is also grounded in the ups and downs of dating, sex, love and death: personal and universal moments that everyone can laugh and wince at.
Spall displays a virtuosic talent for comic understatement as Roland, giving us several nice-but-dim variations on his drone-voiced theme, each one funnier than the last. In Longhurst’s ingenious in-the-round production, Spall’s Roland is a great shock-absorber for Hawkins’s febrile, quick-witted Marianne, a cosmologist who chats him up at a mutual friend’s barbecue -using the same line in numerous dimensions, to wildly various and comical effect.
The thesis of ‘Constellations’ is that life is a random aggregation of molecules, love a happy accident and death inevitable. It is an expansively big idea that cools this tense, stylish drama a shade too rapidly. With so many playwrights struggling to graduate from the school of Pinter, it’s stimulating to see one standing confidently on the shoulders of Tom Stoppard.
Payne’s play, which repeats questions about ‘choice’ and ‘control’, falls short of the elegantly sustained ‘Arcadia’. But Tom Scutt’s design illuminates its themes in a dark space roofed by milky balloons which suggest white cells, stars or flocks of atoms. Move over Brian Cox: this is charismatic theatre which makes quantum physics sexy. 4 stars Financial Times by Sarah Hemming, 23rd January 2012
There’s quite a bit of time-bending on London stages at the moment. At the Lyric Hammersmith, Abi Morgan’s Lovesong shows us the same couple, old and young, simultaneously; meanwhile, in the Royal Court, Nick Payne’s spellbinding new play takes one relationship and juggles multiple time-lines and possibilities.
You might not expect a play about quantum mechanics and string theory to be moving, but this one is. Payne focuses on the pivotal moments of one relationship and plays and replays them in slightly different ways with varying results. It is a physical way of exploring on-stage the intriguing idea that we might live in a multiverse, with multiple paths shooting out from each instant. As Marianne, a quantum cosmologist, suggests to Roland, it is possible that “at any given moment, several outcomes can co-exist simultaneously”. Payne examines the emotional consequences of the idea of parallel universes and the implications for free will and choice.
So we watch as they meet at a barbecue and Marianne’s awkward chat-up line leads either into a cul-de-sac or into a shared future, depending on which path Roland has taken hitherto. We see a moment when one of them confesses to infidelity, played slightly differently each time. We see them dealing with bad news, each encounter subtly altered. A trauma they will have to face keeps resurfacing throughout, throwing other moments in the relationship into relief. It sounds arid and opaque – in fact, in the hands of director Michael Longhurst and actors Rafe Spall and Sally Hawkins, it proves spry, funny and ultimately very moving.
Spall and Hawkins are remarkable, rising to the fiendish challenge of navigating a script that is inevitably repetitious and circular. That they remember it all is impressive; that they make you care about the characters even more so. With just the tiniest nuance of body movement or intonation, they deliver the repeated scenes differently, so that you see the impact that even the slightest change of tone might have.
On Tom Scutt’s simple set, a dark rectangle beneath a firmament of white balloons, the two circle each other like boxers or dancers, complementing the play’s intellectual structure physically, by constantly changing the angle and space between them. And yet they keep a through-line and a sense of character: he, spontaneous, easy-going and warm; she, intense, spiky, but fragile. Ultimately the play emerges as a touchingly original study of a relationship and a meditation on that all too familiar refrain: “if only”.
4 stars The Metro by Claire Alfree, 23rd January 2012
Nick Payne’s tricksy, lovely little play riffs on mind-expanding ideas about free will, faith and time for 65 minutes, pusyhing its potential to the limit.
Marianne and Roland meet, have sex, don’t have sex, get together, split up, meet again. He is a beekeeper who envies the singualr focus of a bee; she is an astrophysics academic who understands string theory and multiple universes. Their relationship is stretched apart and put back together in a dizzying sequence of scenes that consider the forces that determine individual experience within a single, elegant, dramatic conceit.
Director Michael Longhurst coaches pitch-perfect performances from Rafe Spall and Sally Hawkins, who give a heartbeat to a relationship that initially feels theoretical but by the end is anything but. At the same time, the play offers a witty parrallel comment on stories themselves and the different ways of telling them, in a nod to the way a play can change meaning depending on the choices made by those involved. If this all sounds a bit abstract that’s because to say too much would give away the beauty of this play. Small, but perfectly formed. 4 stars What’s On Stage by Michael Coveney, 20th January 2012
Here’s an absolute delight, a little gem of a play by Nick Payne, a playwright who’s been bubbling under at the Royal Court for a while, performed to perfection by Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall on a simple raised square platform under a night sky of white balloons.
Michael Longhurst’s deft, highly skilled production, designed by Tom Scutt, is only 70 minutes long, but dense with affection and longing, pain and regret, as beekeeper Roland (Spall) and Sussex University cosmologist Marianne (Hawkins) meet at a barbecue, have an affair, separate, meet up again and face life, death and the universe with, on the whole, humorous equanimity.
Scenes are replayed with different emphases, and in parallel scenarios, or universes, at first flippantly offering alternative versions of the truth but increasingly suggesting a world of preferences and second chances. Marianne has a dying mother and occasional symptoms herself of neurological disorder and disease.
Spending time together becomes spending a lifetime together, partly because of circumstances, partly because of a dawning realisation that, with the passing of time, time itself continues on its way without us.
This could sound winsome; indeed, the show suggests to me one or two recent toe-curling little musicals rigorously overhauled by Caryl Churchill. But the repeat playing of a proposal scene from literally different angles, or the rapid cross-questioning of outside affections, only deepens an original study in love and friendship.
Against the odds, the overall effect is touching and beautiful. Hawkins has a wonderful way of spilling emotional beans while holding herself in check with a comic shrug of deprecation; while Spall’s Roland, solid and considerate, receives a serious education in listening and adjusting, riding Marianne’s outbursts with speed and sharpness.