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:
FULL CASTING ANNOUNCED
FOR THE UK PREMIERE OF
MULTI-AWARD WINNING MUSICAL
DIRECTED BY TWO-TIME TONY AWARD WINNER
STARRING THE PREVIOUSLY ANNOUNCED
SHARON D. CLARKE MBE &
CORNELL S. JOHN
FROM 25 MARCH – 29 APRIL
Full casting of the hit Broadway musical, The Life, includes John Addison (Jojo), David Albury (Fleetwood), Jalisa Andrews (Chichi), Matthew Caputo (Oddjob), Lawrence Carmichael (Snickers), Omari Douglas (Slick), Aisha Jawando (Carmen), Thomas-Lee Kidd (Bobby), Charlotte Reavey (April), Jo Servi (Lacy), Lucinda Shaw (Tracy), Johnathan Tweedie (Theodore), T’Shan Williams (Queen) and Joanna Woodward (Mary). They join the previously announced musical theatre stars Sharon D. Clarke (Sonja), who was recently appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2017 Queen’s New Year Honours for services to drama, and Cornell S. John (Memphis).
The Life, which makes its long awaited London debut, directed by the show’s original Broadway director, Michael Blakemore, will run at Southwark Playhouse for a strictly limited season from 25 March – 29 April 2017, with press night on 29 March.
Described by the New York Times as “Broadway’s best kept secret”, The Life features a rarely heard score by celebrated composer Cy Coleman (City of Angels, Sweet Charity, Barnum) and is based on an original idea by lyricist Ira Gasman. The Life, features a book by Coleman, Gasman and David Newman with book revisions for this production by Michael Blakemore.
A thrilling exposé of the darker side of 1980’s New York, The Life is a defiant and heartfelt musical about Times Square before it was cleaned up. A world of pimps and prostitutes, innocents and opportunists, it’s a gutsy and gritty joyride filled with both pathos and fun.
Queen (T’Shan Williams), a young girl from Savannah, and Fleetwood (David Albury), a Vietnam vet with a drug habit, are trying to make it in a merciless New York. Queen is forced into part-time prostitution and ‘The Life’ describes how these two lovers move through this dark world until Queen is helped by her one true friend, an older more experienced hooker, Sonja (Sharon D. Clarke), to make her escape.
On this journey, we meet Memphis (Cornell S. John), the all-powerful king pimp, the girls he controls, Jojo (John Addison), the hustler, who makes it all happen, and the fresh-faced Mary (Joanna Woodward), straight off the bus from small town Minnesota, only too eager to embrace ‘The Life’.
The original critically acclaimed Broadway production of The Life, opened on 26 April 1997 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. It received 12 Tony Award nominations, winning Best Featured Actress and Actor in a Musical for cast members Lillias White and Chuck Cooper. Sharon and Cornell will be assuming these roles in the UK production. The Life was also nominated for 9 Drama Desk Awards, winning three, including Best Musical.
20 years after Michael Blakemore originally directed this musical gem, the new production of The Life is produced by Amy Anzel, Matt Chisling, and Catherine Schreiber, with Jenny Eastop as associate director, set and costume designs by Justin Nardella, choreography by Tom Jackson Greaves, projection designs by Nina Dunn, lighting by David Howe, sound design by Sebastian Frost, musical direction by Tamara Saringer and casting by Anne Vosser.
John Addison’s stage credits include The Go-Between at the Shaftesbury Apollo Theatre, The Little Prince for Chimera Productions, A Christmas Carol and Tommy both at Blackpool Winter Gardens, Ghost at the English Theatre Frankfurt, Dessa Rose at Trafalgar Studios, Lend Me a Tenor at Vienna’s English Theatre, The Thing About Men at the Landor Theatre, My Fair Lady at the Royal Albert Hall, A Christmas Carol at the Creation Theatre, Carmen at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Sweeney Todd at Bolton Octagon, Me and Juliet at Finborough Theatre, The Secret Garden at West Yorkshire Playhouse, Vice at the Arcola Theatre, A Little Night Music at the Menier Chocolate Factory & Garrick Theatre, The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Les Miserables at the Queen’s Theatre, Chess and Jesus Christ Superstar both on Scandinavian Arena Tours. John was part of both the Les Miserables 25thAnniversary Concert at the O2 and The Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary Concert at the Royal Albert Hall. John’s screen credits include Later with Jools Holland (BBC), Spitting Image (Central), Elton John (ITV), Brundibar (BBC) and Superstar (ITV).
David Albury’s stage credits include Exposure: The Musical at the St. James Theatre, Only The Brave at Wales Millenium Centre, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe at Birmingham Repertory Theatre, You Won’t Succeed On Broadway If You Don’t Have Any Jews at St. James Theatre and in Tel Aviv, Love Story at the Union Theatre, Porgy and Bess at the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park, Bare at Greenwich Theatre and The Lion King on UK tour.
Jalisa Andrews’ stage credits include Sister Act at Epsom Playhouse, West End Live at Trafalgar Square, Birmingham Pride Ball at Birmingham NEC, Jedward/Spellbound at the Winter Gardens Blackpool and Jack and The Bean Stalk at the Royal and Derngate Theatre, Northampton. Jalisa’s screen credits include Don’t Stop Believing (Channel 5) and Mistresses (BBC1).
Matthew Caputo’s stage credits include Mary Poppins and Top Hat both on UK tours, Water Babies, Gypsy and 42nd Street all at Leicester Curve, Cats on a UK and European tour, White Christmas at the Lowry, Manchester and West Side Story at The Stage, Gateshead.
Lawrence Carmichael’s stage credits include South Pacific at the Barbican and UK tour, HONK! at the Casino Theatre, Switzerland, The Clockmakers Daughter at the Landor Theatre, Holding The Man at Trafalgar Studios, On The Ropes for Salon Collective & Theatre Delicatessen, King Lear for Darker Purpose. Australian credits include: The Norman Conquests for QUT LaBoite, The Servant Of Two Masters at QPAT Cremorne Theatre/QUT, The Threepenny Opera for Queensland Theatre Company, Love Puke for Queensland State Theatre Company, Gun In Cheek on Australian and Asian tours, Hamlet for the National Stage Company, Romeo & Juliet for the Italian Forum, A Midsummers Night Dream for the Australian Shakespeare Festival, King Lear for Harlos Productions and Accidental Death Of An Anarchist at Cut Theatre, Sydney and Australian tour. Lawrence’s screen credits include Misfits (E4), Rise Of The Krays, Home & Away, All Saints, Domestic and Double The Fist Season I & II.
Omari Douglas’ stage credits include Annie Get Your Gun at Sheffield Crucible, Jesus Christ Superstar at the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park, Hairspray at Leicester Curve and on a UK tour, High Society at the Old Vic and Elegies For Angels, Punks And Raging Queens at the Criterion Theatre.
Aisha Jawando’s stage credits include being part of the original London cast of Motown: The Musical at Shaftesbury Theatre, and the original London cast of Beautiful at the Aldwych Theatre, The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales Theatre, the original London cast of Fela at the National Theatre, The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre and Soul Sister at the Savoy Theatre and on UK tour.
Thomas-Lee Kidd’s stage credits include Mary Poppins on a UK tour and Top Hat at the Aldwych Theatre and UK tour. Thomas-Lee’s screen credits include Britain’s Got Talent (ITV), London Olympics 2012 and BT London Live, Hyde Park/Victoria Park.
Charlotte Reavey’s stage credits include American Idiot The Musical at the Arts Theatre, London, Grease for Belinda King Productions, Loserville at the Union Theatre, London and Fame on an Italian tour.
Jo Servi’s stage credits include Dirty Dancing on UK tour, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe at Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Sunny Afternoon at the Harold Pinter Theatre, City of Angels at the Donmar Warehouse, Before The Dawn – Kate Bush at Hammersmith Eventim Apollo, Fast Cuts & Snapshots at Òran Mór and A Life Of Galileo at Birmingham Rep and on UK tour, A Christmas Carol at Birmingham Rep, Sweet Charity at the English Theatre, Frankfurt, Ragtime and A Midsummer Night’s Dream both at the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park, Jersey Boys at the Prince Edward Theatre, The Human Comedy at the Young Vic & Watford Palace, Bernstein’s Mass at the Royal Festival Hall, The Enchanted Pig at Linbury Studio Theatre – Royal Opera House, UK tour and New Victory Theatre, New York, It’s A Wonderful Life, Little Shop Of Horrors and Blues In The Night all at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, Once On This Island at Birmingham Rep, Nottingham Playhouse and Hackney Empire, Peter Pan – A Musical Adventure at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Rebellion at Hackney Empire Studio Theatre, Cinderella at the Old Vic Theatre, Guys And Dolls, Jailhouse Rock, Ragtime and My One & Only all at the Piccadilly Theatre, Oh! What A Night on UK & European tour, Whistle Down The Wind on UK tour and being part of the original London cast of Disney’s The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre. Jo’s screen credits include Muppets Most Wanted (Disney), The Six O’Clock Show (Granada), Barrymore (LWT), Errù Gæær’n (Rubicon TV/ TV2 Norway), Saturday Live (Triffic Films), The Royal Variety Performance (Granada) and Children In Need (BBC).
Lucinda Shaw’s stage credits include Cats on UK and European tour, Gypsy at the Savoy Theatre, From Here To Eternity at the Shaftesbury Theatre, The Bodyguard at the Adelphi Theatre, Gypsy at the Leicester Curve, Bohemian Rhapsody on UK tour and in Monte Carlo, Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert at the Palace Theatre, It’s A Wonderful Life at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, X for Mercury Musical Development, Spamalot at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne, We Will Rock You on tour in Hong Kong and Thailand, Hedwig And The Angry Inch at Cremorne Theatre, Queensland, Sweet Charity at the State Theatre, Melbourne, Pippin at the Sydney Theatre, We Will Rock You on a Japanese tour and Dusty: The Musical on tour in Australia. Lucinda’s screen credits include London Road (National Theatre/Cuba Pictures).
Johnathan Tweedie’s stage credits include Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Jesus Christ Superstar on UK & European tour, It’s a Wonderful Life, Disco Inferno and Evita all on UK tours, Sweet Charity at the English Theatre and in Frankfurt, Annie on an Asian tour, On Eagle’s Wing on European tour, Sonamar: Pasíon in Spain, The Wedding Singer, Lend Me a Tenor and Mame all at the Summer Repertory Theatre in California. Johnathan’s screen credits include Letermago (Kyknet South Africa), Nit d’Exits (TV4 Spain), All Star Mr & Mrs (ITV UK), Tarzan 3D (Constantin Films) and Muppets Most Wanted (Disney). Johnathan is also a world championship competitive Irish dancer, and has performed in over 50 countries to well over 10 million people in some of the world’s top dance Irish dance shows including Gaelforce Dance, Riverdance, Irish Dance Masters, Rhythm of the Dance, Ragus, Spirit of Ireland and Dance of Desire as principal dancer, dance captain and choreographer.
T’Shan Williams’ stage credits include The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales Theatre, Love Me Tender on UK tour, The Blues Brothers at the Arts Theatre and Sensing Cesar at the Rose Theatre, Kingston.
Joanna Woodward’s stage credits include Beautiful: The Carole King Musical at Aldwych Theatre, Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, Merrily We Roll Along at the Menier Chocolate Factory and the Harold Pinter Theatre, Lost Boy at Finborough Theatre and Charing Cross Theatre, Little Shop Of Horrors at Kilworth House Theatre, Sleeping Beauty and Puss In Boots both at Newbury Corn Exchange, Pages: Promised Land at Union Theatre and Medea and The Adventures Of Jason And The Argonauts both at the Scoop Amphitheatre. Joanna’s other credits include lead singer in The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable for Punchdrunk/National Theatre and as ‘Coco Dubois’, acclaimed burlesque compere and singer, in The Hurly Burly Show at the Duchess Theatre.
Sharon D. Clarke’s (Sonja) stage credits include Pigs and Dogs at the Royal Court, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, An Oak Tree, Everyman and Amen Corner for which she won the 2014 Best Supporting Actress Olivier Award for her role as ‘Odessa’, all at the National Theatre, A Wolf in Snakeskin Shoes at the Tricycle Theatre, Romeo and Juliet at the Rose Theatre, Kingston, Porgy and Bess at the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park, Blues in the Night at Hackney Empire, Ghost at the Piccadilly Theatre, for which she was nominated for Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical, Hairspray at the Shaftesbury Theatre, We Will Rock You at the Dominion Theatre, for which she was nominated for Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical, The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre, Rent at Shaftesbury Theatre, Guys and Dolls at the National Theatre, Mama I Want to Sing at the Cambridge Theatre, Once on This Island at Birmingham Rep and West End, for which she was nominated fro the 1995 Olivier Award for Best Performance in a Supporting Role, Little Shop of Horrors at Leicester Haymarket Theatre and Medea at Theatr Clwyd & Young Vic. Sharon has also starred in four Pantomime seasons at the Hackney Empire; Sleeping Beauty, Puss in Boots, Mother Goose and Cinderella. Sharon’s screen credits include Tau, Sugarhouse, Secret Society, Beautiful People, Broken Glass, Tumble Down, Holby City – series regular, Unforgotten, You, Me and Them II, Death in Paradise, New Tricks, Psychobitches, Justin’s House, EastEnders, The Shadow Line, Tree Fu Tom, The Bill, Last Choir Standing, Casualty, Holby Blue, Boo!, The Crust, Waking the Dead, Soldier Soldier, Between the Lines, Children’s Ward, Stop Look Listen, and The Singing Detective. Sharon has also starred in several projects for BBC Radio 4, and has been a guest singer and soloist on Friday Night is Music Night for BBC Radio 2.
Cornell S. John’s (Memphis) stage credits include Porgy and Bess at the Savoy Theatre, Les Misérables at the Queen’s Theatre, Pacific Overtures at the Donmar Warehouse, The Full Monty at the Prince of Wales Theatre, Messiah on European Tour & Riverside Studios, The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre, South Pacific at Sheffield Crucible, Sweet Charity at the Victoria Palace Theatre, Romeo and Juliet at the Belgrade Theatre, The Meeting at Pleasance Theatre & UK Tour, Waiting for Godot at West Yorkshire Playhouse & UK Tour, But I Cld Only Whisper at the Arcola Theatre, The Rubenstein Kiss at Nottingham Playhouse & UK Tour and Baddies at the Unicorn Theatre. Cornell’s screen credits include Brotherhood, Jack and the Giant Killer, Dreams of a Life, Anuvahood, Kidulthood, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Adulthood, Victoria, Death in Paradise, EastEnders, Waterloo Road, Rastamouse, Inside Men, Revolver, Doctors, No Signal, Casualty, Thieftakers, The Knock, Maisie Raine, Lenny Henry in Pieces, ‘Orrible, Holby City and Five Days 2.
In 2000, Michael Blakemore became the first and only director to win Tony Awards for both Best Director of a Play and Musical in the same year: Copenhagen and Kiss Me Kate. For Kiss Me Kate, he also won the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards. Of his London directed productions, 15 have won either the Evening Standard or Olivier Award in the categories of Best Play, Best Comedy or Best Musical. Michael most recently directed Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit at the Gielgud Theatre starring Angela Lansbury.
Michael was Associate Director at the National Theatre where productions included The National Health, Long Day’s Journey into Night, The Front Page, Macbeth, The Cherry Orchard, Plunder, After the Fall and Copenhagen. Michael’s other directing credits include Privates on Parade for the RSC, Don’s Party and Widower’s Houses both at the Royal Court, Make and Break at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre (where he was Resident Director) and Haymarket Theatre, Mr Peter’s Connections by Arthur Miller at the Almeida Theatre. Other West End successes are A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Forget-Me-Not, Design for Living, Knuckle, Separate Tables, All My Sons, Noises Off, Benefactors, Lettice and Lovage, Uncle Vanya, The Sisters Rosenweig, Democracy (West End and Broadway), Embers and Three Sisters. On Broadway, productions include three musicals, the Tony Award-winning City of Angels; The Life, voted best musical of 1997 by the Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Drama League and receiving 12 Tony nominations; and Kiss Me Kate which received 12 Tony nominations. He also directed Death Defying Acts, three one-act plays by David Mamet, Elaine May and Woody Allen, Deuce, Is He Dead? and Blithe Spirit. He has written and directed two films, A Personal History of the Australian Surf (Standard Film Award 1982) and Country Life. His books include a novel, Next Season (1968), still in paperback, and two memoirs, Arguments with England (2004) and Stage Blood (2013).
Michael was awarded the AO (from Australia) and the OBE in 2003.
Cy Coleman was a musician’s composer, classically trained at piano, composition and orchestration at New York City’s High School for the Performing Arts and NY College of Music. Cy was being groomed to be the next great conductor. Instead he turned his passion to jazz and formed the popular Cy Coleman Trio. Born Seymour Kaufman on June 14, 1929 in the Bronx, he changed his name at age 16 in time to use it on his first compositions with lyricist Joe A. McCarthy such as “Why Try To Change Me Now” (Frank Sinatra), “The Riviera (Tony Bennett)”, and “I’m Gonna Laugh You Right Out Of My Life” (Nat King Cole). Still performing in jazz clubs and enjoying a successful recording career, Cy began writing with veteran songwriter Carolyn Leigh. Hits like “Witchcraft”, “The Best Is Yet To Come”, and “Pass Me By” were followed by their successful leap to Broadway musicals with Wildcat starring Lucille Ball (“Hey, Look Me Over”) and then Little Me (“I’ve Got Your Number” and “Real Live Girl”). In 1966 Cy triumphed again on Broadway with the smash hit Sweet Charity (with the legendary Dorothy Fields) featuring classic songs “Big Spender” and “If My Friends Could See Me Now”.
Cy’s successes on Broadway continued for over three more decades with the scores for Seesaw, I Love My Wife, On The Twentieth Century, Barnum, City of Angels, The Will Rogers Follies, and The Life. In 2004 Cy returned to his roots and revived the Cy Coleman Trio, once again wowing audiences with his amazing skill at the piano. During Cy’s amazing career, he took home 3 Tony’s, 2 Grammys, 3 Emmys, an Academy Award nomination and countless honors. Cy served on the Board of ASCAP for three decades and is a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Saturday 25 March – Saturday 29 April 2017
Performances: Mondays – Saturdays: 7.30pm
Tuesdays & Saturdays: 3.00pm
Ticket Prices: £25 for all tickets (concessions available)
£14 for all previews
Southwark Playhouse, 77-85 Newington Causeway, London, SE1 6BD
Box Office: 020 7407 0234