Nick Payne’s intriguing two-hander, first saw the light of day in London in 2011. Since then it has been performed on the West End and on Broadway, but this production at The Street Theatre is its first outing for Canberra audiences.
“Do you know it’s impossible to lick the tips of your elbow” is the opening line, introducing a short scene, which is repeated over and over, almost identically, but each time interpreted differently by the two actors, and each time imparting slightly different information. One is reminded of acting school exercises where actors explore the different ways they can interpret a line.
But this play is much cleverer than an exercise, and as other short scenes follow, each treated in the same way, a storyline begins to emerge and the audience is slowly seduced by a succession of possibilities, as the relationship between the two characters begins to deepen.
Along the way it’s revealed that Marianne (Lexie Sekuless) is a quantum physicist, and Roland (Kristian Jenkins) is an urban beekeeper. Both pieces of information prove to be red herrings, because as the play progresses, the occupations of the characters becomes irrelevant, as they explore various ways to interpret reactions to pick-up lines, sleep-overs, infidelity and terminal disease.
The conceit of the play is that it purports to explore the idea of multiple universes, all of equal weight and infinite possibilities. For those audience members intrigued by the M-theory, how the playwright addresses that idea is doubtlessly of interest. But anyone frightened off by that proposition, can rest assured that the brilliance of the play, the performances and the production, can equally be enjoyed by those possessing not even the slightest knowledge or interest in the M-theory.
Both Lexie Sekuless and Kristian Jenkins turn in exceptional performances in complex roles which are nevertheless gifts to the actors. Both have trained in the U.K. and this training serves them well as the roles demand impressive acting skills and great concentration. Sekuless has the wider range, and her cameos fascinate through her attention to detail and emotional gradations.
At times one wondered whether a quantum physicist would be so skittish and flirtatious, but having never knowingly met a quantum physicist, perhaps they are. Jenkins takes fewer risks, but has excellent presence and his various characterisations all have the ring of truth.
Deprived of furniture or props and wearing the same costumes throughout, their ability to create multiple, often moving, characters is impressive. Deftly flicking between time frames and situations, in rapid short, sharp scenes punctuated by quick blackouts and dramatic thunderclaps they are continually fascinating. Their performance of one memorable scene in Auslan, remains in the mind as a particular highlight.
Caroline Stacey has given this fairly modest two-hander an epic-scale production. Her direction is resourceful and clear, and she takes full advantage of Imogene Keen’s vast multi-level abstract setting to insure visual interest throughout. The stunning lighting design by Owen Horton, and a wonderfully atmospheric soundscape by Kyle Sheedy, both contribute enormously to the success of this fascinating 80 minutes of theatrical Viagra.
The Street Theatre, 15 Childers Street, Canberra City West
Performance: Wednesday 19 July 2017 – 7.30pm
Season continues to 29 July 2017
Information and Bookings: www.thestreet.org.au
Image: Lexi Sekuless and Kristian Jenkins star in Constellations – photo by Novel Photographic
Review: Bill Stephens OAM