(written by Nick Payne, directed by Thomas Leadbeater and Amy Noriko Ward)
This particular production of Nick Payne’s classic was produced by the new theatre company Squabbling House, founded by graduates of the Theatre, Film, and Television Department at the University of York. As Constellations is their debut production, there was a lot of excitement as to how co-directors Thomas Leadbeater and Amy Noriko Ward was going to put their own stamp on the piece. Led by actors John Chisham and Hattie Patten-Chatfield, audience members were cackling with laughter and also welling up from sheer heartbreak throughout this one-act play, about Roland and Marianne’s developing relationship through many alternate universes.
Chisham and Patten-Chatfield were phenomenal as the starring duo of the show. The text has its challenges in regards to the repeating dialogue, due to the audience being shown different variations of the same scene. Patten-Chatfield rises to that challenge and excels in giving distinct tonal variations in each rendition of scenes, like Marianne asking Roland to lick his elbow (as apparently, that is the key to immortality). She uses her fantastic comedic timing to her advantage, leaving the audience belly-laughing as she fumbles her way through socially awkward conversations, making her lower moments of the play all the more poignant. Though Chisham shined in the more tender and sorrowful scenes, he flourishes in his comedic moments also, possessing more subtlety in his delivery than Patten-Chatfield’s, leading to a wonderful contrast between the couple’s personalities and performances. On the other hand, their changes through different universes by stepping out of scenes and stepping back into the space sometimes left awkward gaps in scenes, but this was by no means distracting to watch.
The design aspect of the show was somewhat simple, making sure that the audience’s focus was on the actors. The hanging honeycombs were shaped to look like different molecular structures (set and costume designed by Megan Bailey), delicately combining the passions of the two protagonists. The varying levels of platforms (again, shaped like honeycombs) added texture to the blocking, giving actors different ways to utilise the space. I did think the costume design was a little lacklustre in terms of its use of colour, though the comfiness in Marianne’s grey baggy jumper does accentuate her playfulness, contrasting Roland’s quaint blue shirt describing his simple yet endearing nature.
Leadbeater and Noriko Ward’s production of Constellations is a very quaint one, primarily using the talent provided by the actors to drive the show, with the occasional sound cue to give locations to scenes (sound designed by Noriko Ward). Chisham and Patten-Chatfield gave strong performances throughout, showing a fantastic emotional range that made the audience engrossed in the many journeys Roland and Marianne were taking. Overall, a lovingly made and engaging production that shows great promise for these new theatre-makers.
Constellation’s last performance was on the 21st October at 7.30pm, in the Department of Theatre, Film, and Television, University of York.