A LETTER FROM LONDON: Merrily We Roll Along, Privates on Parade, Constellations, Kiss Me, Kate and More

By Ruth Leon
03 Jan 2013

Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall in Constellations.
Photo by Simon Annand

Wednesday — imagine quantum physics in play form. Can't? Neither could I. Except that Constellations at the Duke of York's, the best play of this season and one of the best new plays in years, is just that. Compulsively watchable, this two-actor love story about a scientist and a beekeeper, who meet, marry, love, and argue until one of them dies, is the verbal equivalent of string theory.

Early in Constellations, Marianne (Sally Hawkins in a performance of intense delight) explains to the boy she has just met (Rafe Spall, a mixed up bundle of non-cloying sweetness) that everything we are and everything we are not is contained within each of us. He has no idea what she is talking about but finds her irresistibly sexy. In return, he proposes by reading her a description he has written about the lifecycle of the honey bee. These simple scenes are repeated with slight variations as if to demonstrate the alternative realities of our lives. Each of the recurring themes exists in its own space. Time, Marianne tells us, is not the same for everyone. So, what is time? What is love? What is death? And do any of them really exist? Hawkins and Spall are so real, so loving and loveable, that they appear not to be actors at all, so fine is their acting, just two people on an empty stage, a couple trying to make sense of the universe.