Reviewer: Myle Yan Tay
Performance: 11 March 2017
Science fiction on the stage is always difficult. We often conceive the genre of science fiction to demand so much more than the stage can provide. But at its best, science fiction is about the small rather than the large, real characters living in extraordinary circumstances. Singapore Repertory Theatre’s (SRT) production of Constellations (directed by Bruce Guthrie) excels because it understands this – that at the core of compelling science fiction are people.
Nick Payne’s sharp script charts the relationship of a couple across the multiverse, stopping at key moments in their romance. The script explores questions of time and potential, with a keen eye on the inevitable.
Though the script is well crafted, the standouts are Edward Harrison and Stephanie Street’s phenomenal performances.
Due to the nature of the script, many scenes are played over and over again, each time with different textures. In less experienced hands, these scenes will come across too tedious to endure, but Harrison and Street give such detailed and nuanced performances that the audience cannot help but be enthralled. Both performers go far beyond varying between emotions, like sad or angry. When the scenes are redone, it is as if we are watching wholly new characters with changed backgrounds, existing within the same body. The precision of both actors is an incredible feat as they juggle between different universes and psychologies.
There are moments within the show that feel incongruous. In one reality, Roland (played by Harrison) assaults Marianne (played by Street). This startling instance compromises the immersion of the audience, sticking out as the most severe action taken by either character. Later on, an extended sequence in sign language starts strong but loses its lustre. And throughout the script, the characters return to a single running conversation that frames the entire narrative. The neon orange lighting and the echoed sound effects of these scenes make the characters appear as if they are in some surreal setting.
But these moments only feel inconsistent because they inhibit the actors’ performances. The fact that these moments feel out-of-place is more of a testament to Street and Harrison’s realistic performances in the rest of the play than anything.
While we jump through universes, what remains is the heart of the piece. I find myself rooting for both characters, despite them constantly changing. Though conceptually, the piece is about the infinity of the cosmos, its ultimate focus is on Roland and Marianne.
The conceit of the multiverse is merely a tool to explore the intimate human connection. And with Payne’s insightful writing and Harrison and Street’s stellar performances, Bruce Guthrie turns good science fiction into great theatre.
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
CONSTELLATIONS by Singapore Repertory Theatre
8 – 25 March 2017
KC Arts Centre
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Yan is currently studying in Yale-NUS College, where he enjoys spending his free time in far too many productions. Having tried acting, writing, and directing for the stage, Yan looks forward to reviewing. He believes that theatre should challenge both the audience and creators.