Clemi Collett as Marianne and Bilal Hasna as RolandEd Bankes

At first, Constellations seems like it’s going to be predictable – the two actors lie together on the stage, their heads together and their feet apart, whispering. Their voices blend in with the quiet chatter of the audience as the Corpus Playroom fills up. They are dressed ordinarily – he in a plaid shirt and loose trousers, she in jeans and a satiny blouse. But as soon as the play starts proper, it is clear that Constellations is an ordinary story told in an extraordinary way.

The premise is this: we are shown the many permutations of the relationship between Roland (Bilal Hasna), a beekeeper, and Marianne (Clemi Collett), a theoretical physicist. The same moments in their relationship are repeated, but miniscule changes in circumstance cause seismic ripples in their ensuing interactions. They meet at a barbecue, and Marianne starts a conversation by trying to convince Roland to lick his elbow. In some variations, he assumes she’s hitting on him, and feels affronted; in others, they laugh together and instantly connect. In short, the same relationship is told over infinite parallel universes, the same two people reflected infinitely.

Clemi Collett as Marianne and Bilal Hasna as RolandEd Bankes

The script is complicated and non-linear, often with the same lines repeated three, four, or even five times, each with a slightly different tone or context. The nuances are crucial to our connection with these two characters, and in this respect Collett and Hasna cannot be praised enough. They convey their characters with subtlety, intelligence and deep feeling – Marianne and Roland are wholly real people on the stage in front of us, despite the highly stylised narrative. Collett and Hasna are as effective as comedians as they are at conveying moments of deep emotion, and this play certainly requires both. Occasionally their chemistry seemed to misalign, especially in scenes with less emotional height, but their ease with each other and with the script was clear.

"The play’s set made great use of the Corpus Playroom space"

In such a stylised narrative, it sometimes felt like the two actors were struggling to maintain a strong pace. While each scene was too short to ever drag, the play lacked some drive towards its conclusion, especially considering the emotional strength of the play as it reached its climax. It was in these moments that the relationship between the actors occasionally seemed awkward and less convincing. In the second half it was unclear what the play was driving towards, especially as some of the variations saw their conclusions come much earlier than others.


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Nevertheless, both actors were overall very impressive, Collett demonstrating great sensitivity in her approach to her character’s illness and Hasna showing incredible variety throughout – his soft, charming nervousness in some scenes was as believable as his violent anger in others. The different variations of each scene were clearly indicated by Alistair Henfrey’s confident direction and staging, aided by Aiden Tulloch’s fantastic score, which served great atmospheric and narrative purpose, as well as cohering beautifully with the rhythms of the script and the visuals of the set design. The simplicity of the set allowed the characters to shine as foci, but also cleverly aligned the imagery of honeycombs and constellations, visually uniting the play’s most poignant motifs. Michelle Spielberg deserves true praise – down to the details of the sequins which glimmered in Henry Dakin’s subtle lighting, the play’s set made great use of the Corpus Playroom space and contributed perfectly to the atmosphere.

This is a play both subtle and powerful, telling an intensely human story in an innovative way. A huge amount of emotional weight is packed into an eighty-minute run time, and is brought to life by a pair of versatile actors and a talented production team. In its essentials, Constellations is a production that seems to confirm that even if we are only a random collection of atoms with infinite replicas across universes, we too can find the clarity of purpose of the humble honeybee.

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