(reviewed at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge on 16 June)
The Royal Court Theatre’s production of Nick Payne’s one-act play Constellations might have been tailor-made for the Cambridge leg of its 2015 tour. When we enter the theatre, we see that the black stage is festooned with large matt and luminous white balloons, suspended by the sort of knotty silver chain to create an impression of the sort of 3D diagram physicists favour when discussing the working of the cosmos to a television lay audience (design is by Tom Scutt).
We meet two characters, both young. Marianne (Louise Brearley) is a scientist; she employs a chat-up line one which one would imagine is designed to kill any possibility of a flirtation stone dead. Roland (Joe Armstrong) is on the surface a simpler soul; he keeps bees for a living. Eventually they do set up home together, but that takes a number of twists and misunderstandings before Marianne is diagnosed with cancer.
Payne’s dialogue is razor-brilliant, with exchanges between his two characters overlapping and repeated with subtle changes of syntax and meaning. You need to keep wide awake as the story unfolds; there’s no time allowed by Michael Longhurst’s well-paced production for wool-gathering.
Brearley has the more difficult role of the two actors, for Marianne is – at any rate initially – not the most sympathetic of people. One feels perhaps more for Armstrong’s character, though Roland has his own complexities. Both thoroughly deserve the applause the first night audience awarded them, partly for never slipping in the dialogue but mainly for the sheer commitment of their performances.
Constellations runs at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge until 20 June.