Constellations by Nick Payne – Eternity Playhouse, Sydney

BuildingsThe Eternity Playhouse opened in 2013 after the one hundred and twenty six year old building, formerly the Burton Street Tabernacle, was extensively restored and renovated by the City of Sydney.

The theatre provides a new home for the Darlinghurst Theatre Company.

I found the atmosphere of the theatre very conducive to a pre theatre drink.

The foyer and bar space has a timber paneled ceiling, black painted steel pillars and the glow from the candlelight softens the hard edge ambiance.

Bar chairs are coupled with sit down tables to provide choice and comfort for theatre patrons

The stage of Eternity Playhouse has arched windows, columns, detailed frieze work and the paintwork is very effectively worn by time.

The façade is symmetrical with wooden doors on each side allowing for entry and exit points.

Bar Eternity PlayhousePositioned in front of this covered stage section was a raised black platform where two wooden folding chairs were strategically placed for the performance of Constellations.

The Playhouse has been brilliantly designed and allows every audience member a clear and unobstructed view of the stage.

Beautiful stained glass windows echo the theme of the past history of the building and add a further dimension to the atmosphere.

Constellations is a two-hander romantic drama that is intellectually challenging and modern and inventive in its structure and themes.

Against a backdrop of quantum physics Nick Payne the playwright explores love, friendship and the notion of free will.

The script traverses scientific theories with a poignant and at times humorous intention. The very effective use of repetitive scenes and dialogue engineers a concentration from the audience that is aptly rewarded.

Two unlikely matched protagonists meet at a barbeque. Marianne [Emma Palmer] is a physicist while Roland [Sam O’Sullivan] is a beekeeper.

Eternity Play

Constellations: Darlinghurst Theatre Company Photo by Helen White

Marianne playfully challenges Roland with the quirky comment that “elbows hold the secret of mortality”.

His initial response is indifference but the dialogue is repeated several times providing Ronald with the opportunity to change his response each time.

The audience is introduced at the beginning of the play to the possibilities of a range of outcomes that can occur where choice exists.

This strategy is employed throughout the play where there are varied scenarios that elicit one response. Then the scene is reenacted several times, each time with a different reaction.

This creates a layered and innovative script that requires the audience to attend carefully to the spoken word.

Actors 2Indeed the spoken word becomes an underlying theme when Marianne begins to struggle with articulating her thoughts we are given the first clue to her condition of expressive aphasia. This is a serious condition caused by damage to the parts of the brain that control language.

Pathos and empathy for the character were woven into the dialogue as Marianne pleads in a recurring comment “I’m so tired”.

Discussions about quantum theory and relativity theory emerge and a strong suggestion is made about string theory bridging the gap between the two.

There are a “vast ensemble of parallel universes” that were hinted at through a revolving door approach rather than a linear constructed play. These options were carefully crafted by Nick Payne the Playwright and the integrity of intention was upheld by Anthony Skuse’s direction.

The ballroom dancing class scenes provided the actors with some very funny lines to deliver. Sam O’Sullivan and Emma Palmer confirmed their high standard of practice in their excellent timing and their humor softened the more complex and serious themes of the play.

Roland describes the three different types of bees with the enthusiasm of one passionate about their work. The roles of the “drones, workers and single solitary queen” are thoughtfully articulated and the audience is invited into the amazing world of bees.

As Marianne’s disorder deteriorates not only is she unable to assess and produce vocabulary but she is so incapacitated that she begins to use sign language. Her frustration is almost tangible as she grapples with her prognosis.

“What do you mean by time”? Marianne questions. Again the exploration of time as a component of the multiverse is investigated. The struggle of living final moments of time builds an excruciating tension between the lovers and connected the audience very intimately to the young couple.

ActorsBoth of the actors were required to display not only a wide gambit of emotions but do so instantly when scenes were reenacted so abruptly. Their ability to swiftly and convincingly change responses was a distinctive quality of their performances

I believe the minimalist approach the Director Anthony Skuse adopted celebrated the profound implications of the Playwright Nick Payne’s words.

Interior EternityNick Payne is a British Playwright who is hailed among the best of contemporary playwrights in the English speaking world. His exploration of a romantic relationship is ground breaking in its intensity and original in its scientific context. He has pioneered a style of writing that I think will impact on the theatre of the future.

I was deeply moved by the power of the words of the Playwright, the skills of the Actors and the vision of the Director. The audience’s overwhelming response to the performance was proof that the magic of theatre can be transformative.

Rose Niland, Special Features NSW, The Culture Concept Circle, 2014

Eternity Playhouse signEternity Playhouse
39 Burton Street
Darlinghurst, SYDNEY NSW

Play Images: courtesy Darlinghurst Theatre Company

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