Circa Two, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

26/07/2014 - 23/08/2014

Production Details

Written by Nick Payne
Directed by Rachel Lenart

NZ premiere of Nick Payne’s award-winning CONSTELLATIONS One relationship. Infinite possibilities.

Marianne and Roland are polar opposites. A quantum physicist and a beekeeper. A big universe thinker and an everyday believer. CONSTELLATIONS confronts our questions of choice, control and certainty. It explores the macro and the micro, and in its search for meaning, discovers the beauty of insignificance. CONSTELLATIONS is an openly honest and humorous revelation of the ‘what-ifs’ in life, and the multiple possibilities within one relationship. It is an unmissable, universe shifting show that will challenge how you see life, and change how you live it.

“Every choice, every decision you’ve ever made and never made exists in an unimaginably vast ensemble of parallel universes.” Constellations

“This is existentialism for the 21st Century, and it is awesome.” Rachel Lenart

Rachel Lenart, ‘One of Wellington’s most adventurous directors’, entices us with British playwright Nick Payne’s two-hander: CONSTELLATIONS. A play about free will and friendship; quantum multiverse theory, love and honey. As we follow the relationship of Marianne and Roland, we get to dissect, relive, rewind, fast forward, and spin completely out of this world. Intimate and evocative, this play cuts right to the heart of now; a world where we have all the answers, but not the solutions. “This exceptional new romantic drama packs more into an hour or so than most manage in three.” The Telegraph

Hot off the awards scene and international circuit to Circa Two, this team and play oozes integrity. 30 year old Payne was awarded the Evening Standard Award for Best New Play 2012, after premiering at the Royal Court Theatre in London, as well as the Harold Pinter Award 2012.

The core team, also in their 30s, are an ensemble of Chapman Tripp Award Winners: Erin Banks (Actress of the Year 2013), Richard Dey (Outstanding Performance 2012), Marcus McShane (Lighting Designer of the Year 2013) and Tane Upjohn-Beatson (Sound Designer of the Year 2013). Directed by critically acclaimed Rachael Lenart, Produced by Yael Gezentsvey and set designed by visual artist Lauren Stewart.

This established, collaborative-working team of younger generation theatre makers feel thrilled to be exploring and presenting this unique, meaningful, charming and theatrical experience. Dey and Banks (the on and off set couple) give their all in this this dynamic and demanding performance. Spectacular, sexy, insightful and sharp. This play is for the expert and the everyman, the scientist and the thinker, the astronomer and the dreamer. Whatever your beliefs are in life, CONSTELLATIONS is a must see in this existing universe.

“If I see a more ingenious, touching and intellectually searching play than Constellations this year; I will count myself very lucky.” Spencer


Circa Theatre : Circa Two 
Opening Night Saturday 26 July, 7.30pm (90 min)
Preview Show Friday 25 July, 7.30pm and Sunday 27 July, 4.30pm
Season: 7.30pm Saturday 26 July – Saturday 23 August (excl Mon),
Matinee Sundays 4.30pm
$46 full / $36 senior / $33 friends of circa /
$39 groups 6+ / $36 groups 20+ /
$25 under 25s / $25 previews
Book through Circa Theatre on 04 801 7992 or

Marianne:  Erin Banks 
Roland:  Richard Dey 

Director:  Rachel Lenart
Producer:  Yael Gezentsvey
Set Designer:  Lauren Stewart
Lighting Designer:  Marcus McShane
Sound Design:  Tane Upjohn-Beatson
Stage Manager/ Technical Operator:  Deb McGuire

Composer:  Tane Upjohn-Beatson
Featured Violin Soloist:   Yury Gezentsvey
String Quartet:  Quadrivium:Jonathan Tanner, Annabel Drummond, Alice McIvor, Sophie Williams 

Publicity:  Yael Gezentsvey
Graphic Design:  Anthony Hore
Copywriter:  Lara Phillips
Photography:  Anthony Hore, Yael Gezentsvey, Stephen A’Court
NZSign Language Advisors:  Saran Goldie, Mark Berry
Box Office Manager:  Linda Wilson
House Manager:  Suzanne Blackburn

Theatre , Music ,

Glimpses of other universes

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 29th Jul 2014

Constellations, a 70-minute play by a thirty year-old Englishman, has been a success wherever it has been produced all over the world. One English reviewer wrote that his play “can stand comparison with Tom Stoppard, Michael Frayn and Caryl Churchill.” Heady praise indeed. 

The plot is both simple and complex. It starts at an ordinary barbecue where Marianne meets Roland. He is an apiarist and she a quantum physicist. The meeting abruptly ends there but it also continues as we are given glimpses of some of the other scenarios that can occur in the infinite possibilities of existence in a parallel universe.

Marianne says “In the quantum multiverse, every choice, every decision you’ve ever made and never made exists in an unimaginably vast ensemble of parallel universes.”  You’ll be surprised and amused by Roland’s reply. The play is often very funny.  

Will there be a next meeting? Will his marriage be a barrier to romance? Will former lovers and affairs lead to a break-up? Will love triumph? But there is much more to the play than just another romance. 

In short Constellations has it both ways. We follow a romance developing into a lasting relationship and while doing so we come to acknowledge that, as director Rachel Lenart says in a programme note, “Standing in the middle of infinity, really it is the minutiae that matters”.

And it is in the minutiae of the relationship that Erin Banks and Richard Dey reveal all the possible (that we are allowed to see) complex emotional subtleties and facets of two people’s developing relationship. Their very fine performances move with lightening speed from light to dark with a deftness that is always startling and moving. It must also be hell to memorise. 

They are given superior support from composer Tane Upjohn-Beaton whose music combined with Lauren Stewart’s setting of two stylish benches and numerous naked light bulbs and a black backdrop fretted with golden hexagons complement the play’s themes perfectly in Rachel Lenart’s elegant production of this fascinating play.


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Variations on a relationship

Review by John Smythe 28th Jul 2014

The instant a writer of fiction in any form – or a composer, choreographer or artist of any kind – starts work on a new idea, they are playing the ‘what if …?’ game. Some people like to think our lives are determined by a higher power – God – so tend to see whatever happens as ‘meant to be’. Others are more inclined to ‘chaos theory’ but feel compelled to find meaning in whatever happens randomly. 

Most of us muse from time to time on the complex network of choices, purposeful actions and unexpected events that impact our lives, and wonder ‘what if?’. Perhaps our genes seal certain elements of our fate but we get to choose what we make that mean and how we handle it. Or could it be that every action any of us takes is simply an inevitable consequence of all that has gone before, which means ‘choice’ is illusory? 

These are the metaphysical conundrums British playwright Nick Payne – a graduate of York University, Central School of Speech and Drama, and the Royal Court Young Writer’s Programme – plays with in Constellations, which premiered at the Royal Court in 2012.

Initially it seems he’s tossing around different options for how a relationship might start when Marianne and Roland meet at a barbecue, and the actors – Erin Banks and Richard Dey, in this Rachael Lenart-directed production at Circa Theatre – are testing the options for him. But of course the variations are the point, although her opening gambit about licking elbows remains a constant.

It turns out Roland is a beekeeper who admires the bees’ absolute certainty of purpose, determined by their role in the hive hierarchy. Marianne is a quantum physicist and muses on quantum multiverse theory, where everything you’ve ever done exists in one universe while everything you’ve never done but could have done instead – i.e. every possible future – exists in parallel universes. But maintaining a sense free will, of control, over her life is important: “I have to have a choice!” she insists, in one of the many recurring sequences.  

While Michael Frayn’s superbly crafted Copenhagen, which played in the same Circa Two space in 2002, is a profound and playful philosophical exploration of Werner Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and the quantum mechanics of science, politics and other human behaviour, Nick Payne simply uses quantum mechanics, general relativity, string theory and beekeeping as a background conceptual context.

The variations on the story of Marianne and Roland’s relationship are played out in everyday – some might say prosaic – scenarios we can all relate to, and Banks and Dey do a brilliant job of switching from one possibility to another, infusing each with entirely or subtly different emotions, moods and states of being. The lightness of touch they bring to the transitions belies the rigorous process they and Lenart must have gone through in rehearsal. The truth they bring to each moment generates some delightful comedy.

Intercut with the relatively linear relationship story is a glimpse of something that presages what is to come – although “time is irrelevant at the level of atoms” – and here Payne is teasing us with ‘what is it?’ rather than ‘what if?’ In developing a script most playwrights also ask themselves ‘what would it take?’ to produce a result they wish to achieve and of course Payne has made a choice that clearly determines the story’s destination.  

What is finally revealed is a radical ‘game-changer’, again a range of alternatives are played out and in the end the question of choice becomes what you might call ‘ultimate’ (obliqueness intended to avoid a spoiler).

Apart from the great pleasure of watching two actors ply their craft exquisitely, Constellations engages its audience by compelling us to analyse and judge the variables, and ask ourselves what we would have done in the circumstances.

Lauren Stewart’s simple black box space is furnished only with two slatted pale pine seats. Honeycomb shapes dot the back walls and clear glass light bulbs hang in the space and over the small auditorium and glow in various combinations: the major feature of Marcus McShane’s lighting design. Tane Upjohn-Beatson’s sound design and ethereal original compositions – recorded with violin soloist Yury Gezentsvey and the Quadrivium string quartet – complete the splendidly integrated design elements, implemented by Technical Operator  Deb McGuire.   

It’s probably irrelevant for me to wonder what if Payne had further explored the question of choice, control and responsibility by including some reference to the global threat to bee populations, and therefore to our very survival, brought about by insecticides. But that’s how it goes with a play like this: you can’t help thinking …


Rachel Lenart July 28th, 2014

Thank you for your review, John (i particularly appreciate the deliberate obliqueness) You are right to muse your final what if. In fact, the impetus for the play that became Constellations was indeed an exploration into the plight and politics of the Bees. Payne obviously diverted here and created this play instead, but it is a politic that i hope the story supports, however indirectly, and i'm pleased you draw attention to it here. Coincidentally. August is Bee Aware month and Constellations are proud to support this. You can make a donation to the National Bee Keepers association (bank account number in the link) or follow the link below to find other ways to support a heathy bee population in your own garden!

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