Tag Archives: Lucy Cullingford



Vaudeville Theatre


Vaudeville Theatre

Reviewed – 12th August 2021



“The chemistry between Douglas and Tovey is cosmic, even celestial, and there is a frisson that is totally fresh and natural”


‘In the quantum multiverse’, explains Manuel in “Constellations”, ‘every choice, every decision you’ve ever and never made exists in an unimaginably vast ensemble of parallel universes. We’ve all had these late-night conversations at some point or other, that usually descend into a chasm of confusion and a mind-boggling realisation about how little we know about the universe. Nick Payne’s play about the randomness of time and space condenses the subject more succinctly when it takes us on Manuel and Roland’s journey through a variety of alternative and possible pasts, presents and futures. But cosmology aside, the focus is on the microcosmic ‘humanness’ of the couple. The heartaches and happiness brought about by the various ‘what ifs’ that flesh is heir to.

After over a year of uncertainty, could-have-beens and might-have-beens; it feels like the perfect time for a revival of Payne’s extraordinary tale of infinite possibilities. First produced at the Royal Court it has since enjoyed West End runs, national tours and played Broadway. Now back in the West End, with original director Michael Longhurst at the helm, it can be seen from a fresh angle. The production features a revolving cast, and the choice of actors opens up new meanings and new dynamics to Payne’s writing. The action is no longer the preserve of a white, middle aged heterosexual couple. In this version in question, Manuel (originally Marianne) is played by Omari Douglas opposite Russell Tovey’s Roland. It is not just a boy-meets-girl story anymore. And the current concept works brilliantly. The chemistry between Douglas and Tovey is cosmic, even celestial, and there is a frisson that is totally fresh and natural. Having not seen the other scenarios I am not offering a comparison, but I suspect any choice (in our quantum universe every choice is possible) as to which duo to see will be the right one.

Roland is a beekeeper and Manuel a cosmologist who waxes lyrical about string theory and the belief that there are multiple universes that pull people’s lives in various directions. This is reflected in the play’s structure as the scenes (often very brief) are repeated with different attitudes, intonations, and outcomes. The couple meet at a barbecue and become romantically involved, they move in with each other, break up, meet up again and eventually marry. Or not. The differences played out in each variation are often quite miniscule, but the effects are momentous. All of life and death is there, with multiple stages of laughter and grief. On paper it does have the potential to become a drama exercise, but the actors’ outstanding performance prevents this.

Tom Scutt’s design suspends dozens of helium filled balloons above the stage, their significance morphing in tune with the nuances of each scene. A simple design, but in the mind of the audience it can represent molecules or galaxies, party guests or speech bubbles, or even an invisible tumour. Alongside David McSeveney’s staccato sound design and Simon Slater’s score, we get a full sense of how snap decisions can change the rhythms of life, love, and loss immeasurably.

‘We have all the time we’ve always had’ declares Manuel. More than once. As each scene is replayed, we pick up a better understanding of what is being said. And each time it pierces with a different force. When we know that maybe they haven’t the time, it is heart-breaking. At other times it fills us with joy and at times it is just funny. It feels like the perfect time for a revival of Payne’s extraordinary tale of infinite possibilities. But then again, any time is right – it is indeed timeless.

Whether or not you accept or reject the multiverse theory or believe in the notion of free choice, “Constellations” is the obvious choice of theatre to see right now. And if it is within your timeframe (or budget) to choose which cast to watch, I’d certainly try for as many of the four versions as possible.



Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Marc Brenner



Vaudeville Theatre until 12th September


Previously reviewed this year by Jonathan:
Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Hung Parliament | ★★★★ | Online | February 2021
Bklyn The Musical | ★★★★★ | Online | March 2021
Remembering the Oscars | ★★★ | Online | March 2021
The Picture of Dorian Gray | ★★★★ | Online | March 2021
Disenchanted | ★★★ | Online | April 2021
Abba Mania | ★★★★ | Shaftesbury Theatre | May 2021
Cruise | ★★★★★ | Duchess Theatre | May 2021
Preludes in Concert | ★★★★★ | Online | May 2021
You Are Here | ★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | May 2021
Amélie The Musical | ★★★★ | Criterion Theatre | June 2021
Bad Days And Odd Nights | ★★★★★ | Greenwich Theatre | June 2021
Express G&S | ★★★★ | Pleasance Theatre | June 2021
Forever Plaid | ★★★★ | Upstairs at the Gatehouse | June 2021
Forgetful Heart | ★★★★ | Online | June 2021
Staircase | ★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | June 2021
The Hooley | ★★★★★ | Chiswick House & Gardens | June 2021
Be More Chill | ★★★★ | Shaftesbury Theatre | July 2021
Heathers | ★★★ | Theatre Royal Haymarket | July 2021
The Two Character Play | ★★★★ | Hampstead Theatre | July 2021
My Night With Reg | ★★★★ | The Turbine Theatre | July 2021
Big Big Sky | ★★★★ | Hampstead Theatre | August 2021
The Windsors: Endgame | ★★★ | Prince of Wales Theatre | August 2021
The Rice Krispie Killer | ★★★★★ | Lion and Unicorn Theatre | August 2021


Click here to see our most recent reviews


Mountains: The Dreams of Lily Kwok – 4 Stars


Mountains: The Dreams of Lily Kwok

Stratford Circus Arts Centre

Reviewed – 19th April 2018


“Jennifer Tang’s direction is inspired, giving vivid life to the world of the play and weaving the text into an abstract, but very real, whole”


This is a family story rooted in one woman’s determination to move mountains to create a better life for herself and her daughter. It is also a true story, based on Helen Tse’s memoir ‘Sweet Mandarin,’ and adapted for the stage by In-Sook Chappell.

The play begins with Helen, a successful financial lawyer. She has taken a job in Hong Kong, hoping to find a part of her history that she knows nothing about, and to connect with the place her family came from. But she feels out of place, she’s ‘a girl who grew up in a chippy,’ and the crazy pace and crowds of Hong Kong feel far from home. Then Helen meets her grandmother Lily Kwok, now young again, and dreams Lily’s life, sharing in, and experiencing, the history she wants to know, and learning about Lily’s dreams. The relationship between Siu-See Hung’s Helen and Tina Chiang’s Lily is touching and powerful. As Helen learns more about her grandmother’s life she understands why Lily never wanted to tell her story.

The play moves around in time, as Lily reluctantly lets Helen experience a life she never could have known. Helen sees the extreme poverty of her mother’s first years, her grandmother’s struggle to earn enough money to feed her baby and her ailing mother. She ‘becomes’ Lily, as she meets her grandfather and comes to realise the brutality of so much of Lily’s life in Hong Kong. There is visceral menace in the staging of the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong during the second world war, and despair in Lily’s struggle to survive. But there are also moments of delicious humour, and a luminous sense of women connecting across the generations.

There are some memorable performances, and none more so than Ruth Gibson’s portrayal of Mrs Woodman, an upper class Englishwoman who Lily works for as a maid. Mrs Woodman treats Lily with kindness and a casual, unconscious racism that is shocking but hilariously done. The other cast members, Matthew Leonheart, Minhee Yeo, Rina Takasaki and Andy Kettu play a range of characters, managing to clearly inhabit each one. Takasaki’s performance as Mable, Lily’s daughter, is as moving as Kettu’s Japanese soldier is terrifying. Leonheart’s woman charming Chan, who marries Lily and descends into opium addiction, is far from the stereotype the role could suggest, and Yeo’s Kit Ye gives a fun glimpse of a warm relationship with Lily, showing the strength that women can give each other when times are hard.

Jennifer Tang’s direction is inspired, giving vivid life to the world of the play and weaving the text into an abstract, but very real, whole. The action is often choreographed, using the seven actors to create cityscapes and atmosphere, beautifully devised by Movement Director Lucy Cullingford. Amelia Jane Harkin’s set is simple, evocative and flexible and, coupled with Elena Pena’s soundscape and Amy May’s lighting design, it transports the audience into Hong Kong’s past. When the second half opens with Lily cooking on stage the sensory experience is complete!

Food is a theme of the play. When Lily has enough money she opens one of the first Chinese restaurants in England. Helen has inherited her grandmother’s love of food, and would rather cook than be a lawyer, but she is fulfilling her family’s expectations, being a good daughter. Will she have the courage to tell Lily that she would rather open a restaurant? My only criticism of the play is that it cut off too soon, leaving the relationship between Lily and her daughter unresolved, and skipping over the early years in England too quickly. I would have liked a little more.

We know that, in reality, Helen did open a restaurant. Along with her two sisters she opened ‘Sweet Mandarin,’ a celebrated Chinese restaurant in Manchester. Next time I am in town I’m booking a table!


Reviewed by Katre

Photography by Jonathan Keenan


Mountains: The Dreams of Lily Kwok

Stratford Circus Arts Centre until 21st April



Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com