Preview: 'Constellations'

By: Natasha Warby


With the beginning of the academic year brings a host of new and exciting plays for the students of St Andrews. One of the first offerings of the year is Constellations, directed by Alexander Gillespie. With a host of Mermaids shows under his belt, his latest offering is a two-actor play, starring Kate Kitchens and Jared Liebmiller, and will be performed at The Stage for one night only. I spoke with Al to get a preview of the show.

ST.ART: So, you said that Constellations ‘mashes together quantum physics, comedy and a tale of true love’. What exactly was it about the play that appealed to you?

AG: I had this period back in first year where I went on a mad play reading binge – I think I read about ten plays over the course of two days – and at the end I came out with two plays, Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth and Constellations by Nick Payne. 

At its core, I love Constellations because it pulls off one of the most brilliant magic tricks in theatre. At its core its about the multiverse theory, the idea that every choice you make, and every choice you don’t make exists – that they both happen, and they exist in their own universe. 

This might sound a wee bit heavy, but the brilliance of Nick Payne’s writing is that in terms of the narrative, the play is barely about the multiverse. He uses the multiverse as his structure (every scene has a number of different variations), but it doesn’t factor majorly into the plot. It’s just a way to see the world.

So on the one hand, Multiverse and Quantum Theory are at the centre of this play, and yet, bizarrely, on the other, the play is about love, about how we choose our loves, and yet ultimately have no choice in it.  Nobody writes about love the way Nick Payne. Nobody else captures that visceral feeling of how brilliant it is to be in love, and how awful it is to be slipping out of it.

Regrettably I am no longer in my first year. I am old, and in fourth year, and soon people are going to stop giving me money to do these plays with very few strings attached. So at the beginning of the year I kind of thought to myself, “Oh, I best be getting on with this”. And now, here we are.

ST.ART: I’m an English student, so the idea of a play focusing on quantum physics seems a little daunting. Will I be able to keep up?

AG: You’re an English Student, of course you can! My mum taught English, and she used to describe English to me as “the study of the human soul” – and the human soul has got to be more complicated than string theory, right?

Marianne, played by the amazing Kate Kitchens, the heroine of the show, is a Quantum Physicist. But Roland, played by Jared Liebmiller, plays a beekeeper who is slightly scared of quantum physics. It’s good to jump headfirst out of your comfort zone sometimes – it’s healthy to make art for people who don’t live in your comfort zone, and its fucking down right part of your recommended daily nutritional intake to consume art that is a little daunting. 

(Don’t worry though, the science isn’t at all scary, the play is hilarious, and worst comes to worst, you might even learn something)

ST.ART: Constellations is also a two-hander. Have you found it more or less challenging to bring this play together when you’re only dealing with two actors?

AG: It’s different. Most of the time as a director, your job is to juggle balls in the air. When you’re doing a big show, you’re probably juggling between seven to fourteen at any given time. This makes everything a bit more difficult, but it also means that the people watching you probably won’t mind if you loose one ball as long as the rest stay in the air. When you’re just using two you don’t have that luxury – if one ball falls out of the air, that’s it, you’ve lost the audience.

I’ve probably talked about balls a bit too much, so let me just say I have never worked on a show this tight before. Jared and Kate are absolutely phenomenal – their chemistry is brilliant, they’re unbelievably committed – I honestly think the two of them are right now, at this point, the two actors most on top of their game in St Andrews.

ST.ART: What can the St Andrews audience look forward to when they come to your production of Constellations at The Stage on the 13th of October?

AG: You might laugh, you might cry, and heck, you might even learn a little something.

Constellations will be performed at The Stage on the 13th of October, 19:30. All profits are going to the Cornhill Centre at Perth Royal Infirmary.