Stepping into the intimate rehearsal space of the Pilch Theatre, I was excited to see the preview of ‘Constellations’. The production is in the hands of The Experimental Theatre Club (ECT), whose previous successes include gems like ‘Breathing Corpses’ (way back in the depths of Michaelmas Term) and I was curious to see how they approached this fascinating play.
‘Constellations’ is, on one level, a simple story, but with a big twist. It tracks one couple’s journey, from their first meeting right through the following years together, examining their everyday battles and triumphs. The twist comes in the exploration of the multiverse theory – that we are living multiple lives on multiple planes. The play follows the hundreds of different routes the characters take together, leading to a complex web of decisions and outcomes. When Marianne is diagnosed with cancer, in one world she is easily treated and the couple quickly move on; in another universe, she has been given only a week to live. Decisions are twisted, words take on whole new meanings, lives are changed.
This play is perfect for the ETC, who dive head first into this mess of interpretations. The intensity of the piece, focused on a cast of only two characters, only gives more scope for exploration and experimentation. The director, Sammy Glover, describes how it gives them much more flexibility and freedom to interpret the play. “Our rehearsals aren’t straight or rigid – we want this to be as easy and natural as possible. If the line fits, it fits.” And it certainly pays off – after an initial period of improvisation, Calam Lynch (playing Roland) and Shanon Hayes (playing Marianne) seem to naturally fall into their characters, accentuating and playing with each line until each of the play’s realities is individual and expressive. It’s a truly impressive feat, not just to make a character come to life so vividly, but to make them exist believably in different worlds.
As well as breathing life into such a complex situation, the ETC’s trademark fun and playful streak shines through this production, giving it a sharp edge that keeps their audience interested and alert. The switches between universes are denoted by different sounds – a clap, a footfall, a recorded noise – meaning you’re always on the edge of your seat waiting for the next change. The play is also staged in the round, allowing the performance to be projected out at all angles. “It’s like an arena, or a dance,” says Sammy, “it’s also a fantastic challenge: we’re all learning, all the time. We just want to see if it works.” Well, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a complete success.
With the ETC’s wonderful perfectionistic attention to detail, ‘Constellations’ is turned into something akin to a work of art. It brings out those tiny inconsequential moments in relationships, like a sneaking glance or a nervous laugh instantly regretted, and pushes them to the fore until you begin to see something of yourself in the characters on stage. Being part of this journey, and getting swept along in the ETC’s magic, is something I recommend that everyone do.
Verdict: The Experimental Theatre Club is on its way to the stars with ‘Constellations’
Catch Constellations at the Keble O’Reilly in 3rd Week.