'Constellations' flies high at Tūhura

Otago Museum. Photo: ODT files
Tūhura Otago Museum. Photo: ODT files
Nick Payne’s play, Constellations staged in Tūhura Otago Museum's auditorium on Thursday, is an outstanding work. 

The stage is set with Mathew E. Morgan’s space-scapes projected on three walls encompass the audience and backlight the stage. A sound-scape creates an other-worldliness, but (and this is my only "but") is confused by the irritating hum of the auditorium’s air-conditioning.

The script takes the audience along a challenging journey as a relationship evolves from its juddered inception to its harmonious close. A series of memory bytes are played out, layered, shared and repeated with subtle changes in intonation and emphasis by actors Rosella Hart and Matt Wilson under the direction of Kim Morgan. After all, life’s pivot points do play on the mind. Time shifts are signalled by what sounds like a rush of air.

The play plays with human perceptions. Parallel conversations pivot between the couple until both lose their ability to communicate verbally while, conversely, the plot becomes increasingly apparent. The audience is reminded throughout the initially staggered but increasingly coherent storyline that universalities are timeless, without linear properties and in perpetual evolution. In reality there is no beginning or end; merely swirling mass. 

Constellations is an extremely intelligent and bravely confronting work. It raises many questions about human relationships and their interface with the universe while dissecting human-centric notions of free-will. Our farce-like inability to lick our own elbows points to human flaws, and by extension to our inability to honesty express emotions. The chemistry of physical attraction remains undeniable and illogical. Sign language, beautifully executed via Jenna Gutteridge’s tutelage, makes the communication a readily comprehensible visual experience.

The many hands and the "galaxy of support" from CreativeNZ and DCC which brought this excellent production to fruition are thoroughly commended. It merits many repeats.

 - Constellations runs 23 May – 26 May and 29 May – 1 June, 7pm. Beautiful Science Gallery. $25 Concession, $30 General Admission.

Review by Marian Poole