Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had taken a different turn in life. You know, those moments when decisions waver in the moment, and fate could be determined in one of two opposing directions.What if the other one had happened instead? I’m picturing the scene where a stark dilemma is haunting me, I stay up all night trying to decide whether to take one course of action or another, whether to go or stay. It’s finely balanced and could go either way. I finally make that decision, plump for one option over the other and exhausted by the mental exertions, fall asleep. Then I wake up in the morning and do the exact opposite. So much for free will. Life then takes its course, but almost certainly a very different course to the one that would have been taken if the alternative option had prevailed. I’m not taking about minor decisions here – what to wear, who to invite, whether to take the train or the bus – but the big life changing ones. Which country to live in, what career to pursue, who to have your children with. The problem is that we only live our lives through the perspective of one of the possible pathways. The one we have sort of chosen. The other possibilities, the paths untaken, remain unknowable. There is a philosophy though which maintains that each of the endless variety of trajectories does indeed exist in its own version of the universe. Every time a decision is there to be made, like a fork in the road, both of the eventualities stretch out into the future waiting for us to walk along either one path or the other. This would mean that two versions of our future selves are already inherent in the decision making process, and if you were able to look down from a vantage point above time and space you would be able to see both of them at once, going their separate ways. This view would reveal something called ‘the Multiverse’, a boundless place where unlimited outcomes occur simultaneously. It’s not a philosophy I agree with myself, but it could make a bloody good play!
The Physicist and the Beekeeper
Constellations is a single act double handed play which explores the different ways in which the interrelated behaviours of two people might unfold by depicting the multiverse live on stage. I wont explain how it’s done exactly, but suffice it to say that we get to see many different iterations of the same scene while examining the effect of subtle changes on outcomes further down the line. So its not a conventional play then, not a concatenation of consecutive scenes in order taken from a single historical timeline, with or without flashbacks, but neither is Constellations an experimental drama, with different outcomes each night dependent on audience participation or some other randomness. The purpose of the unconventional structure is not really to explore alternative universes in a science fiction sort of way, but to act as a vehicle for exploring some insights into the reality of human relationships and the way we might try, ultimately in vain, to steer them.
The Duke of Yorks theatre has a reputation for putting on short runs of interesting plays which otherwise probably wouldn’t make it into the West End, and Constellations is only 65 minutes long in a single act with just the two actors as the full cast, which means the quality of the writing and the production have to be superb. The reason why this play has made it so far is because it was so well received previously at the Royal Court Theatre. With theatres unwilling to take a punt on anything that strays from the mainstream with revivals, juke boxes, long dead playwrights and celebrity casts the presence of Constellations in the West End helps to restore a little bit of faith in a London that can be thought provoking and a challenge to the emotional intellect.
Constellations could either do really well and go on and on, or fall flat on its face and close early but inevitably it will do both at the same time.
Cast of Constellations: Rafe Spall and Sally Hawkins. Director: Michael Longhurst. Producer: Royal Court Theatre, Writer: Nick Payne