CONSTELLATIONS

Beautiful Science Gallery Tūhura Otago Museum, 419 Great King Street, Dunedin North, Dunedin

23/05/2024 - 01/06/2024

Production Details


Author: Nick Payne
Director: Kim Morgan
Original Music: Matthew Morgan

Hic Sunt Dracones (Here Be Dragons)


Hic Sunt Dracones (“Here be Dragons”), Dunedin’s newest professional theatre company, invites you to ponder universal mysteries—both vast and personal—with their inaugural offering: Nick Payne’s Constellations.

An Evening Standard Award-winning dramedy about love, life, and loss in the multiverse, Constellations features just two characters: he’s a beekeeper, she’s a quantum physicist. They must navigate the infinite possibilities of their tumultuous private relationship, against the cosmic backdrop of ever-shifting realities across multiple universes.

Taking full advantage of the Beautiful Science Gallery’s high-spec projectors (and its proximity to our stunning planetarium), audiences can expect an immersive multimedia event during the play itself—with co-programming from the museum around the cosmic themes it presents.

Proudly supported by the Dunedin City Council, Creative New Zealand, and Stage South, and in collaboration with Tūhura Otago Museum, this production showcases the work of award-winning local creatives: Rosella Hart, Matt Wilson, Kim Morgan, Matt Morgan, and Garry Keirle. Winking at the tradition of placing monsters at the borders of old maps, HSD vows to go “off the map” to make theatre in exciting and unusual spaces that suit specific texts that have yet to grace our local stages.

[Not recommended for children]

Beautiful Science Gallery
Tūhura Otago Museum
419 Great King Street, Dunedin North

23 – 26 May
29 May – 1 June
7pm curtain
Tickets $30 (Concession $25) https://otagomuseum.nz/whats-on/nick-paynes-constellations


Actors: Rosella Hart
Matt Wilson

Producer: KIm Morgan
Projections / Sound, Set & Graphic Design: Matthew Morgan
Lighting: Garry Keirle
Stage Manager: Miriam Noonan
Operators: Florence Bragg & Milla Swanson-Dobbs
Dramaturg: Allison Horsley
Accent Coach: Hilary Norris
British Sign Language Coach: Jenna Gutteridge
Photography: Lara MacGregor, Gregor Richardson, Andrew Mackay


Multimedia , Theatre , Music ,


70 minutes (no interval)

Stellar!

Review by Terry MacTavish 24th May 2024

Courageously launching into the stars last night is a bold new professional theatre company, enchantingly named Hic Sunt Dracones, Here Be Dragons, the ancient map-makers’ go-to when the edge of known lands left them in frightening terra incognita. 

Fuelled by some of Otepoti Dunedin’s most experienced and talented creatives, Hic Sunt Dracones’ first play, Nick Payne’s award-winning Constellations, is an impeccable production, slickly competent and radiantly artistic.

Lacking a purpose-built theatre (when, when?) HSD have made the logical decision, as other local groups have before them, to mount works in unusual spaces suited to specific productions. Tuhura Otago Museum, striving like many of our museums and galleries to remain relevant and inclusive, and with a world-renowned astrological department, is the ideal venue for Constellations.

For although on one level Constellations is the simple story of a romance between beekeeper Roland and quantum physicist Marianne, playwright Payne has chosen to blow our minds with scientific theory, playing with time and the possibilities of parallel universes where every missed opportunity, every journey not taken, can be explored.

The opening scene, for instance, of the pair meeting at a barbeque, is replayed in swift succession some half dozen times, with facts or responses altered until we settle into what seems to be their agreed-upon story. A sort of Sliding Doors concept, not dissimilar to David Geary’s A Man Walks into a Bar, entertainingly presented at our recent Fringe Festival, but Constellations’ flirtation with physics and reimagining of reality is given an unsettling new dimension through its staging in the Science Gallery and consequent thrilling visual effects.

It is gratifying to read of Tuhura’s pride in this joint enterprise on its very own webpage: “Taking full advantage of the Beautiful Science Gallery’s high-spec projectors (and its proximity to our stunning planetarium) audiences can expect an immersive multi-media event…with co-programming from the museum around the cosmic themes it presents.”

Cosmic themes? It is with some trepidation that I venture through the portals of Tuhura Otago Museum, and up the stairs into the lovely science gallery, fearing that a play dealing with quantum physics will be beyond one whose scientific understanding is stuck at television’s Big Bang Theory.

Ah, but here be art!! We are plunged immediately into a sensory-surround of strikingly-beautiful huge pictures of gloriously-coloured constellations, some rather like dragons, outdoing even the marvellous auroras we have been experiencing in our own backyards this month. There are actually 14 of the vaunted high-spec projectors, employed to dazzling effect by the brilliant technical team.

It may be dedication, it may be ego, but actors and even directors seem to stick around when city theatres fold, while good technical staff are harder to retain, so it is a blessing that Constellations boasts multi-talented Matt Morgan, the perfect partner and creative collaborator for director Kim Morgan. The giant screens have provided his creativity with a booster thrust, and the subtle changes of the constellations humanity has long used to help orientate and guide travellers now guide us through the moods of the play, aided by Gary Kierle’s projections of the human brain, playing tantalisingly over the actors’ faces, in clever contrast.

Payne’s play has been performed successfully worldwide, the 2021 London production employing four sets of well-known actors, but I cannot imagine any set having more impact than this, and with less experienced and wise direction, it could even prove overwhelming. That instead it is the perfect enhancement of the production is due to director Kim Morgan, supported by her splendid team and grounded by the painstaking research of dramaturg Allison Horsley.

Having admired the intricacy of Morgan’s directing skills in complex large-cast multiple-stranded plays like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I find it revelatory to observe the simplicity with which she has handled this. The style is utterly pared down and unpretentious, the result a humble intimacy that draws us in.

Crucial, I think, as Payne does anything but patronise audiences – Constellations is non-linear and challenges our expectations in every way, yet with Kim Morgan’s restraint and the actors’ integrity, backed by Matt Morgan’s sensitive shifts of glowing constellations, interspersed with Keirle’s striking images, we easily follow the time jumps and multiple paths to find our own satisfactory meanings.

Morgan’s actors are a dream team, whom I have seen and reviewed with admiration in the past – most recently, I think, Wilson in End of the Golden Weather and Hart in Lavvies 2 – but separately, so I have been looking forward to seeing them work together. I am not disappointed. Dressed-down in earth-coloured, very casual clothing, the pair are so relaxed and easy with each other that naturalism comes, well, naturally. The trust is palpable.

 Wilson engages from his first delightful explanation of how he came to be a beekeeper, excelled only by his constant reworking of the beehive metaphor he naively hopes will be a winning gambit – drones having their penises ripped off, really, Roland?!

Hart slides smoothly from cutely relishing the assonance of “I fucking love honey!” to a superb handling of speech difficulties when a cruel medical condition limits the choices and possible pathways for the couple. The two then combine flawlessly in a beautifully rendered scene using sign language, culminating in Hart’s hilarious and brilliantly executed ‘go hang yourself!’

Their fluid, eloquent gestures are the spellbinding pay-off for the previous minimal movement, and I am reminded for a moment of dancers Matthew and Benedikte Onarheim-Smith revealing the intimacies of their marriage in This Piece Won’t Change the World. Coincidentally, it is dance, the waltz in this instance, that gives Roland and Marianne the opportunity to share their lives once more – more choices, more possibilities. And not only time and choice, but love, fidelity, folly, grief, death, memory, destiny – all the big questions are delicately examined.

Yet in the end it is the lovely age-old story of two people who are all of us, and time is irrelevant. As Ovid put it, “We two form a multitude”. A multiverse of possibilities, like space itself, waiting to be explored.

And as I cross the museum lawn under a full moon in a starlit sky, I am pleased to reflect that while the vastness of the universe may still be terrifying terra incognita for me, perhaps Constellations has brought me a little closer to an understanding of the equally mysterious human mind. The brilliant new star in our firmament, Hic Sunt Dracones gives permission for our imaginations to take over where our knowledge ends.

Stellar!

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