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12th May 2022

REVIEW: Constellations is equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking

Rory Cashin

The play runs in Dublin until early June.

Maybe it is because of the last two years of having so many decisions left unmade – and mostly out of our control – but it does feel like the big question being asked over and over again is “What if…?”

For such a critically and commercially forgotten-about movie, Sliding Doors has somehow left a longer lasting impact than most, perhaps because it so perfectly funnelled that question down to a single moment. In one reality, Gwyneth Paltrow misses the train and doesn’t catch her partner cheating. In the other, she makes the train and finds him in bed with another woman.

That is similar to the central premise of Constellations, which sees Roland (Brian Gleeson) and Marianne (Sarah Morris) meet at a mutual friend’s barbecue. She flirts, but he cuts her off immediately, he’s in a relationship. The lights in the auditorium go out. They come back on, and the scene resets, with some slight changes. This happens six or seven more times, each interaction ever so slightly different, until we land on one where they’re both single, they’re both enjoying the flirting, and we’re on to the next landmark moment in their relationship.

Their first night alone back in her place. Their first big fight. Their reunion. The story powers through these highlights and lowlights, replaying them all over and over again, each iteration different to the last, sometimes in tiny ways, sometimes in gargantuan ways. It ties back to Marianne’s job as a scientist who studies the quantum realm (yes, it is a real thing, not just a Marvel thing), and the endless possibilities that branch off from our reality with each decision left unmade.

Clip via Gate Theatre Dublin

It is all leading up to a revelation about Marianne’s illness, scenes from which are interspersed all the way throughout the play’s succinct 75-minute runtime, reminding us that, yes, all roads will eventually end in some kind of sorrow, but how we react to that ensuing sadness is perhaps the most difficult and important decision we’ll ever make.

The minimalist staging ensures we keep all eyes on Gleeson and Morris; a collection of amber-lit chandeliers provide the mood, while a slightly slanted glass floor and ceiling infinitely reflect back upon each other. The duo are fantastic together, generating real chemistry, grounding what could be a heady concept in some real emotionality.

The script jumps back and forth between comedy and tragedy, not afraid to make some low-brow jokes (“soggy sausages!”) or go off on a tangent about the lifespan of bees, because it is so sure-footed in the path it wants to take us all down.

Constellations will be performed at the Gate Theatre in Dublin until Thursday, 2 June.

Full details on timings and prices can be found here.

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