Tag Archives: Joe Armstrong

“Constellations” at the Trafalgar Studios

One of the strongest plays written in recent years, Nick Payne’s Constellations continues its huge success with Michael Longhurst’s impeccably directed production finishing a nationwide tour in the West End. If you haven’t already seen the play, then you must go. If you have seen it, you shouldn’t need persuading to go again.

This mind-bending romance, full of laughter and tears, explores theoretical physics and the concept of the multiverse – where every action, or inaction, creates infinite parallel realities. I’m not saying I fully understand the theories, but what use the script makes of this scientific speculation is remarkable – repeating lines in short scenes to show altered situations and outcomes.

Roland and Marianne, whose lives we follow, start or don’t start a love affair, which runs both smoothly and unevenly. The changes in situations are funny – especially at a first meeting or a chance reunion at a ballroom dancing class – an exhilarating mix of intelligent humour and belly laughs. But running through the play is Marianne’s illness, a heart-wrenching memento mori explored with such sensitivity and originality it is inspiring.

Payne’s writing is a gift to an actor. Taking on the roles of the couple who do and don’t get together, do and don’t betray one another, affords brilliant opportunities to show off skills and allows Joe Armstrong and Louise Brealey to shine. Armstrong has instant appeal – his beekeeping character wins your heart. Brealey’s performance has more variety, moving back and forth from gawkish scientist to a somewhat cold, cynical figure. When it comes to her character’s illness, she is magnificent. I remember crying when I first saw Constellations and it happened again as Marianne is forced to communicate via sign language in a brave and brilliant scene.

Constellations is an excellent drama and an hilarious comedy, but just as exciting is the way Payne has made questions of life, love, death and morality central to the theories he explores. This multiverse is far from abstract when it comes to the issue of Marianne’s euthanasia – what those white coats have been working on has implications for us all.

Until 1 August 2015


Photo by Helen Maybanks

“The Dumb Waiter” at The Print Room

Time is of the essence Harold Pinter’s play The Dumb Waiter. The one-act work, which sees two hit men waiting for their instructions, plays with timescales and sets out to disorientate the audience. Protagonists Gus and Ben, your average working killers, complain about their employment conditions and are exposed to an increasingly bizarre series of events – including the eponymous serving hatch of the play’s title, from which strange and threatening orders emerge. The tension mounts, hilarity ensues and in true Pinter style, we’re exposed to raw emotion and left a little puzzled.

The director Jamie Glover, primarily known as an actor, has worked with the talented duo Joe Armstrong and Clive Wood to create superbly detailed performances. Wood plays Ben, the “senior partner”, who bristles with tension. Distracting banalities from the newspaper and professed confidence in the “organisation” they work for can’t hide his anxiety. Wood’s red-ringed eyes reveal he is close to the edge and one scene of his starring into the distance, collapsed in on himself, is extremely powerful. His younger colleague, Gus, is the one willing to ask questions – and there are lots of them. Armstrong gives a winning performance, combining a endearingly puzzled look with great comic skill when the couple squabble over semantics. His character might be a cog in a machine, but one with some spirit and the will examine the way in which they are being manipulated.

Maybe it was the delightfully-crafted pumpkins lining the entrance to the theatre, or more likely Peter Rice’s effective sound design to the show which makes the dumb waiter sound like a supernatural guillotine – but this is a scary night. The men’s boredom escalates into fear instantly but the comedy in the play suffers. Glover opts for menace – a valid decision – but I enjoy Pinter’s dark comedy and felt it lacking here. The absurdities of the situation raise laughs but the general air is one of brooding. It adds to the intensity though and the show becomes incredibly swift; there’s time for dinner afterwards and this play leaves you plenty to discuss.

Until 23 November 2013


Written 29 October 2013 for The London Magazine