“The abilities of the performers and directorial team shine through as clearly as the stars the play observes…

The Collingwood Arts Centre is a malleable space. The creative and production team for Pitch Productions’ “Constellations” certainly seemed to appreciate that, striking all incoming audience with a traverse stage, the first I’ve seen in a year and a bit of DST, adorned with a beautiful score of pastel and ocean blue balloons, enough to make Marianne garrotte Roland ten times over. But we are not as vehemently opposed as the play’s central character to these floating signs of sympathy and as such the impact is a subtle (if melancholic) beauty, particularly in light of the sorrowful subjects the play navigates in its own discordant fashion; like a birthday party unattended and left to rot alone.

This casts a stark contrast to the play itself, whose intricacies and emotional plateaus are navigated superbly by Director Emily Browning. The interaction between the two couples (or the two versions, rather) was air-tight, their dialogue bouncing off each other and interweaving with such succinct pace and pattern it’s hard to imagine it being done any other way, despite the fact the original run featuring only the one version of Roland and Marianne. The lighting work, while subtle and understated, was effective in conveying atmosphere, with operators Amelia Rees, Aaron Lo and Katie Scott doing a seemingly seamless job at transitioning from blackouts to fiery colour palettes and back to despondent blues. Even the gentle whir of the shifting spotlights was reminiscent of a rewinding tape, making the technical aspects of the play in their totality highly effective for creating a fluidity of space and time whilst highlighting the emotions and expressions of the performers.

These performers were incredibly convincing, conjuring a strong, tangible emotional response (some gasps and exhales were audible) from the audience. Bella Chapman particularly stood out, intimately capturing a visceral range of fury and grief at the collapse of her character’s mental faculties. She expertly navigated the conflict between her intellectual passion for the abstract string theory and the omnipresent, unavoidable dread of the spectre of what’s to come being impossible to condemn to that same existential realm of cosmic insignificance. Roland, Marianne’s partner and enthusiastic beekeeper, asks her what the point of anything is if every scenario is simultaneously playing out all at once in infinite realities. The impassioned, emotive performance of Chapman ensures that none of us would think of asking such a question by the time we’ve seen all those scenarios play out. The other three performers, Roemer Lips, Maddy Banner and James Roberts, are no less convincing, excellently hitting humour when necessary, anger when warranted and sadness when the rest of the people in the room are feeling the very same thing. However, despite the many multiverses traversed in the play, the tone for the first two-thirds of the play remained more or less the same. A lot of the scenes felt repetitive in a way that ascended the stylistic repetition endemic to the play; different scenarios often returned to the same dynamics, delivery and pacing. I would have liked to see the performers opt for slightly softer, more vulnerable tones at points earlier in the play: the intimacy of the deeply upsetting final act, where the foreshadowing scenes are expanded upon, felt like it came too late. Moreover, the final impact of the play was let down somewhat by the execution of the ending, which crossed the line slightly from understated and touching to anticlimactic, the audience seemingly unsure the play had finished when it did. Banner and Roberts both gave deeply affecting performances in that final scene (and throughout for that matter) but are left on their own – this may just be a personal preference, but I would have liked to have seen the use of soundtrack (which was excellently chosen when called upon prior to and after the play) or lighting to generate a sense of climax, even if in a smaller, subtler sense.

Nevertheless, Constellations is incredibly impactful and emotionally reticent for its shorter running time, and the abilities of the performers and directorial team shine through as clearly as the stars the play observes. It navigates the difficult topics with compassion and care, creating an incredibly genuine, beautiful piece of theatre. Definitely worth the walk!

By Horatio Hollaway

Constellations will continue to show on Friday the 10th of November and Saturday the 11th of November at 19:30 in the Mark Hillary Arts Centre, Collingwood.

Photo Credits: Pitch Productions