Personal choice determines one's life

Edward Harrison and Stephanie Street explore the paths two people could have taken in Constellations.
Edward Harrison and Stephanie Street explore the paths two people could have taken in Constellations.PHOTO: SINGAPORE REPERTORY THEATRE

Constellations tackles fate and free will through a couple's relationship

REVIEW / THEATRE

CONSTELLATIONS

Singapore Repertory Theatre

KC Arts Centre - Home Of SRT/

Last Friday

The fault is indeed not in our stars, but in ourselves, according to physics and this sparkling script from British playwright Nick Payne.

  • BOOK IT / CONSTELLATIONS

  • WHERE: KC Arts Centre - Home of SRT, 20 Merbau Road

    WHEN: Until March 25, 8pm, Mondays to Saturdays

    ADMISSION: $15 to $60 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

    INFO: The play features some coarse language

Forget fate. It is personal choice that steers life down one of an infinite number of pathways.

In Constellations, directed here by Bruce Guthrie, the audience gets to see some of the many different roads two people could have taken.

Roland (Edward Harrison) and Marianne (Stephanie Street) meet at a party. She tries to make a joke. He brushes her off. Lights dim, then come on again.

Roland and Marianne meet at a party. She makes a joke. He takes it in good spirit and mentions his wife. Lights dim, then come on again.

Various iterations of their interaction play out. Each time, his reaction and hers either end the relationship before it can begin, or take it a little further. Perhaps to her apartment, where they may or may not kiss. To her apartment, where they are obviously living together.

The audience views photo-bursts of moments, each captured event slightly different from another. Sometimes, the difference is not immediately obvious, but it clearly affects other events later in the timeline.

Constellations fits into the Singapore Repertory Theatre tradition of bringing in strong, unusual scripts. Love is not the main point of this play. Constellations was written to illustrate the concept of the multiverse, or multiple universes that co-exist until one choice collapses all infinite possibilities into a single moment. So some moments play out in full visibility on an empty stage under an organic wire net of stars.

The production design by Alison Neighbour allows plenty of room for all imaginable possibilities.

In other moments, the lights designed by Gabriel Chan are dim. In the gloom, the lovers are connected by a glowing line that seems to depict the event horizon, that area of space time beyond which there is no escape.

Not even light can break free from here - forget free will and a person's ability to shape the future.

Marianne is written as a cosmologist, helping the audience to understand the idea of the multiverse.

Roland is written as a beekeeper, but used by the playwright only as a joke rather than an alternative, kinder, understanding of the cycle of life and time.

The lovers' relationship does not play out in linear order. Interaction swings from history to future and so the characters do not follow a typical emotional arc. Actors must turn up or switch off intensity from moment to moment. Harrison is usually convincing, thanks to his intense body language.

Street does not always match his strength, partly due to blocking decisions which ensure half the audience sees only her side profile for much of the time.

The last third of the play is the strongest acted.

It explores the question of whether anything is fated. Or, if everything is destined to happen in one or another universe, then what is the point of making a decision?

The audience is left to sift through several possibilities, ranging from tragic to delightful.

Appropriately, personal choice determines whether one comes out of this play with a smile or a frown.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 13, 2017, with the headline 'Personal choice determines one's life'. Print Edition | Subscribe