‘Constellations’ Theatre Review: Broadway Hit Comes to Nairobi, Starring Silvia Cassini and Philip Coulson
Last Friday, I saw Constellations, a Broadway play written by British playwright Nick Payne making its Nairobi premiere at the Braeburn Theatre. Silvia Cassini (A Man Like You) and Philip Coulson (White Rabbit Red Rabbit) star in this charming play about quantum physics, honey and love, directed by stage veteran John Sibi-Okumu.
Theoretical physicist Marianne and beekeeper Roland meet at a barbecue in this whirlwind play which explores the infinite possibilities that their relationship may take. It’s either love at first sight or a romance unpursued. Mutual flirtation is palpable in one reality and unrequited love pervades a different one. In parallel universes, each person is heartbroken by the other’s infidelity. She’s either moribund from a malignant cancer diagnosis, or she’s gleaming from just receiving positive news that her brain tumor is only benign.
No one set up happens just once. A lot of the scenes and snippets of dialogue are recurrent, but the direction each one takes varies depending on the reality they are living in. Or sometimes, the scene simply fizzles into nothing.
I very much enjoyed the performances of Cassini and Coulson. In a single jump of a scene, the script can throw them – especially Cassini’s Marianne – from one end of the emotional scale to the opposite end; hope can turn into despair, trust can become jealousy; all with the dimming of a light.
At every turn, both actors deliver whatever the script demands, giving us some of the most compelling acting Kenyan theatre will see this year. A special nod to Cassini’s anxiety-induced stutter which showed up at different points during the play. My heart broke for Marianne every time she went into one of her scatterbrained bumblings caused by her degenerating brain.
Coulson, appropriately costumed in a dad outfit and with noticeable greying hair that speaks to his charatcter’s middle-aged status, plays his character with a boyish agreeableness that makes him endearing. Not only that, I later learnt that he adopts a Yorkshire accent for this role. It didn’t strike me during the show, but it points to the kind of commitment that the pair brought to their characters.
In addition to the fine acting display, I was also impressed with Sibi-Okumu’s set design. The honeycomb-patterned background and starry, glow-in-the-dark floor cleverly captures the character’s personalities in a simple, unobtrusive way.
This 70-minute play takes audiences on an emotional journey, smartly imbuing a non-traditional love story with universal themes that will tug at the heartstrings.
Constellations premiered on Broadway in 2015, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson. Catch Constellations at Braeburn Theatre, Gitanga Road on June 13 & June 14 at 7.30pm.