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Constellations at Queensland Theatre - Review

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by Kiesten McCauley (subscribe)
My early career was in teaching, writing, producing and directing for theatre, comedy and impro shows. Now I'm a professional creative person. Mostly high-end branding, strategy, writing, editing and digital content creation.
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The Actors Aren't the Only Stars of the Show
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Stars of Constellations: Lucas Stibbard plays Roland and Jessica Tovey plays Marianne

"Imagine rolling a dice 6,000 times…" – Marianne, Constellations by Nick Payne

Is our universe the only one? Are there an infinite number of universes being born within infinite space, all with infinite possibilities? According to the laws of nature, the fundamental ingredients are the same everywhere. If that's so, then does it not stand to reason that if there are infinite other worlds, we'd find ones where everything is the same as our own, aside from a few subtle differences? These questions and more are being posed right now in the thought-provoking play Constellations.

Space, time, quantum physics, multiverse theory, love, death and fate collide in this fascinating, award-winning play by Nick Payne. It enjoyed an enthusiastic opening night audience on the 14th of March at Queensland Theatre's Billie Brown Studio. Lovers of good theatre with strong performances should get in before the play closes on April 9th to see Lucas Stibbard and Jessica Tovey shine in this challenging two-hander.

"Let's say that ours really is the only universe that exists. There's only one unique me and one unique you. If that were true, then there could only ever really be one choice. But if every possible future exists, then the decisions we do and don't make will determine which of these futures we actually end up experiencing." – Marianne, Constellations by Nick Payne

Playwright Nick Payne was inspired by one of my favourite documentaries, The Fabric of the Cosmos presented by Doctor Brian Greene, to pen the tale in which we're treated to multiple possible outcomes of a couple's love story as seen in different universes within our multiverse. It's fitting that a play which deals with such mind (and universe) expanding scientific theories should be staged just in time for Science Week. It's no accident (at least, it's not in this universe).

"I have to say tonight has been a highlight, not just because it is a beautiful and astonishing play but because it also highlights a beautiful partnership between Queensland Museum and Queensland Theatre," said Professor Suzanne Miller, Chief Executive Officer and Director, Queensland Museum Network and Queensland's Chief Scientist.

"It's our first event as part of the Brisbane Science Festival, which is all about celebrating an extravaganza of the entanglement between the arts and the sciences, and that's exactly what Constellations was all about."

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Professor Suzanne Miller, BSc (Hons), PhD, FGS, FMinSoc, FAIMM, FGSA, Chief Executive Officer and Director, Queensland Museum Network and Queensland's Chief Scientist.

"The language of science doesn't necessarily come easily to most people… our point of distinction is in bringing the arts to bear on science. To use performance, to use art to help interpret and to help people come into science in a way that may be unexpected, that might be confrontational, but which is always fun."

While I'm no scientist, I do consider myself an enthusiastically informed amateur. So this play's themes were right up my alley. Plus I'm in the first year of a new relationship, so I could definitely relate to the characters navigating that whole process too.

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The opening night audience gathers for Contstellations by Nick Payne

While I was very impressed with the acing performances (aside from a few slips of the accent here and there) I have to say, the set by Anthony Spinaze and lighting by Ben Hughes really were massive stars of the show. That star pun was intended in this universe but probably edited out of the article altogether by an alternative universe me.

As director Kat Henry explained, the set creation was somewhat scientific too.

"That set was a mathematical marvel – and difficulty," said Kat, "It really was a deeply complex thing to realise. It looks deceptively simple. You look at it and it's a surface but it's a very complicated surface."

kat, henry, constellations, queensland, theatre, nick, payne, science, play
Kat Henry directed Constellations for Queensland Theatre.

I spent much of show incredibly impressed by the set and lighting – how it looked like something from a sci-fi movie, how the lights formed shapes of constellations on the floor, how much meaning could be gleaned from where Kat had directed the actors to stand during each moment – and just now on reflection I'm caught up in the poetry of the idea of making the stage so reflective and the colour of a deep, dark, blue, full moon night sky.

I've only touched a little on the acting and direction, but I'll commend them again for making a play that's so Brechtian so moving. I've been a little tired and emotional lately, it's true, but I had several moments where I felt the tears start to gloss my eyes and I had to grip my partner's hand for emotional support.

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Queensland Theatre's Artistic Director, Sam Strong

"There was a moment when I was watching the show tonight, just towards the end of the show," said Queensland Theatre Artistic Director, Sam Strong, "A couple in front of me held each other's hand at the climactic scene in the show and I think that very simple gesture says an enormous amount about this show's capacity to touch people."

For the record, my partner and I were not sitting in front of Sam. It seems I wasn't the only one moved by Constellations. If you'd like to be moved too, book your tickets now.

Those who are triggered by adult themes including euthanasia or salty language and low level clothed (seriously you won't blush if you're seeing the play with nanna) sex scenes might want to stay away. For help or information about these topics call Lifeline on 131 114, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or SuicideLine on 1300 651 251.

BONUS! Know Your Multiverse

Do you like science and space and time and stuff? Yeah me too. I re-watched Doctor Brian Greene's documentary about Multiverses when I got home from Constellations last night because yes I have a copy and duh why not blow my own little mind right before bed? Anyway, the good Doctor will be sitting down on stage with playwright Nick Payne to talk all things multiverse on two nights only, accompanied by a performance of Constellations. Book here for that one- but be quick! It will sell out for sure.
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Why? It's Worth Seeing in this Universe
When: 09 March - 09 April
Phone: (07) 3010 7600
Where: Queensland Theatre's Billie Brown Studio
Cost: $35-68
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