Review: Elegy, Donmar

“What would you choose?”

Irene Cara once declared she was going to live forever. But as advances in medical science enable us to live longer and survive once fatal conditions, the question remains about the quality of the life that remains. Nick Payne’s Elegy, further exploring the neurological theatrical so vividly started in plays like Constellations and Incognito, imagines society in a near-future scenario where the choice can be made to have part of the brain removed and artificially regenerated. The price though, the loss of huge swathes of memory.

Payne pulls no punches in showing us the impact of such a decision as when we meet post-surgery Lorna and Carrie for the first time, the former has no recollection of the latter to whom she has been married for many years. And cast as perfectly as they are here in Josie Rourke’s production in the form of Zoë Wanamaker and Barbara Flynn, Elegy has its achingly affecting moments as the non-linear narrative shows us Lorna as she was, as well as who she is now, and how the contours of her relationship have changed over time, particularly in the face of a degenerative brain disease. Continue reading “Review: Elegy, Donmar”

20 shows to look forward to in 2016

2016 is nearly upon and for once, I’ve hardly anything booked for the coming year and what I do have tickets for, I’m hardly that inspired by (the Garrick season has been ruined by the awfulness of the rear stalls seats, and I only got Harry Potter and the Cursed Child tickets due to FOMO). Not for the first time, I’m intending to see less theatre next year but I do have my eyes on a good few productions in the West End, fringe and beyond. Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2016”

Review: Constellations, Trafalgar Studios

“If you never want to see me again, you never have to see me again”

In another universe, I’ve written a brilliant, brand new review of this well-deserved West End transfer of the recent UK touring production of Nick Payne’s Constellations. But in this one, I wanted to get home early to take part in a Twitter discussion about blogging, I’ve got too much 9 to 5 work to do before heading off my hols, and I’ve already reviewed the show four times in each of its different major productions – so you’ll have to make do with a link to my review from the beginning of the tour. But rest assured, I’d happily continue seeing this show in all its heart-breaking glory on a regular basis.

Running time: 70 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 1st August

Review: Constellations, New Victoria

“An indented rule indicates a change in universe”

When a rooftop beekeeper and quantum cosmologist meet-cute at a party, the first few lines of Nick Payne’s play Constellations suggest a rom-com in the making as time restarts and a new possibility plays out, it’s clear that there’s something much more eloquently sophisticated at work here. Premiering at the Royal Court upstairs, Michael Longhurst’s production manages to be both intimate and epic, the story of two people somehow expanding to fill several universes of heartfelt emotion.


When a rooftop beekeeper and quantum cosmologist meet-cute at a party, the first few lines of Nick Payne’s play Constellations suggest a rom-com in the making as time restarts and a new possibility plays out, it’s clear that there’s something much more eloquently sophisticated at work here. Transferring from the Royal Court upstairs to the Duke of York’s in the West End, Michael Longhurst’s production sacrifices nothing in the scaling up to the larger venue and if anything, gains in epic power.


When a rooftop beekeeper and quantum cosmologist meet-cute at a party, the first few lines of Nick Payne’s play Constellations suggest a rom-com in the making as time restarts and a new possibility plays out, it’s clear that there’s something much more eloquently sophisticated at work here. Marking the Broadway debut for all concerned, Michael Longhurst’s production manages the transatlantic transfer seamlessly and one wonders where the show could end up next.


Woking. After successes in the West End and on Broadway, Nick Payne’s play Constellations is now touring the UK, starting off at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking. Which is as good a place as any to see a rooftop beekeeper and quantum cosmologist meet-cute at a party and find themselves exploring the many possibilities that their relationship could take as scenes are played and replayed, shifting their journey together subtly but ineffably into new places. 

Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall. Perfect casting for the effervescent, wise-cracking Marianne and the slightly nerdish but endlessly endearing Roland, their intensity beautifully matched especially in the poignant flashforwards.


Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall. That perfect casting retained for the transfer, their ease with each other and the technical challenges of the script even smoother than before and if the larger venue challenged them at all, there was no evidence of it.


Ruth Wilson and Jake Gyllenhaal. All change for Broadway – Wilson’s immense subtleties (is that an oxymoron?) made an ideal, if less kooky, Marianne and Gyllenhaal gave an interestingly judged performance as Roland, less obviously blokey but no less moving.


Louise Brealey and Joe Armstrong. And to the tour, Brealey really makes her mark with a more brittle, abrasive interpretation that contrasts so effectively with the warmer moments, and Armstrong exudes a hugely likeable affability that you would certainly chase across universes to find and keep.



Can I really put my finger on why I like this play so much? Why I think it is one of the smartest pieces of new writing that I’ve seen in recent years? I’m not sure that I can.
It’s to do with the way it wears its scientific concepts so lightly – I mean I couldn’t tell you anything about quantum physics right now but during the play, it feels like maybe I could.
It’s to do with the all-too-human instinct to wonder what if I’d done that differently, what path might that have led me down.
It’s to do with the expression of such powerfully felt emotion that yet feels intelligently reasoned.
It’s to do with free will.
It’s to do with love.


I cried a little bit. Well quite a bit.


I cried so much I couldn’t speak for about quarter of an hour afterwards.


I cried a lot, but a New Year’s Day hangover probably had something to with my emotional state too.


I cried a surprisingly small amount, almost just the artful single tear in fact.


Tom Scutt’s design is inspired – I don’t tweet him. Atom-based clusters of balloons trail from the corridor into the theatre, hexagonal tiles mark out the physical space the actors occupy, and Lee Curran’s lighting tracks the darkening mood perfectly.  


Tom Scutt’s design is inspired – I don’t tweet him. Some of the finer details are lost in the larger space but the evolving scale of the work is artfully done, capturing something even grander about the emotional contours of the play. This time, it is the sound design by David McSeveney that resonates stronger, delineating each fundamental shift so clearly.  


Tom Scutt’s design is inspired – I tweet him, I don’t meet him. It looks as good as ever but the detail of Curran’s lighting is what captures my attention – the shift in the flashes of colour through to blood red, the antiseptic white of the harsh future scenes, the individual balloons picked out in lights with their own secrets.


Tom Scutt’s design is inspired – I tweet him, I don’t meet him and now I probably never will. Since the show has been end-on, there’s been a key scenic detail that I’ve missed every time. Every time. There aren’t enough potential universes to explain this. I need to go again.



Can I put my finger on why I like Constellations so much?
Even on my fourth viewing, there are details that come to me anew.
There are details that have still yet eluded me.
There are scenes that somehow pack a gut-punch as fierce as the first time – why wouldn’t language shift that way.
There are replayed scenes that I could continue to watch over and over – notes in hand or not đŸ™‚   
And in perfect keeping with the theme of the show, Michael Longhurst has kept the production the same but different, or is it different but the same in a remarkable way. Marianne may wear an almost identical outfit whether it’s Hawkins, Wilson or Brealey wearing the shoes but she has exuded such a singular sense each time which has been breathtaking to behold. And partnered by the affable/affectionate/rumpled charms of Spall/Gyllenhaal/Armstrong, they’ve all been Marianne and Roland but their own Marianne and Roland and brilliantly so.



I loved it.


I loved it.


I loved it.


I loved it.



Running time: 70 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Helen Maybanks
Booking until 17th May, then touring to Liverpool Playhouse, Bristol Old Vic, Nuffield Theatre Southampton, The Lowry Salford, Cambridge Arts, Richmond Theatre and Theatre Royal Brighton

Review: Constellations, Samuel J Friedman Theatre

“If only we could understand why it is that we’re here and what it is we’re meant to spend our lives doing”

No word of a lie, the moment I heard that it would be Ruth Wilson joining Jake Gyllenhaal in the Broadway production of Nick Payne’s Constellations was the moment that I decided that I would make my own long-awaited debut appearance in New York. It is a play that both captivated and broke my heart at the Royal Court Upstairs and again in its subsequent West End transfer, so I had no worries about it scaling up to the Samuel J Friedman Theatre – the only concern being that Wilson and Gyllenhaal would match up to the incandescent performances of Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall.

Fortunately they more than meet the challenge, offering up performances that simultaneously echo their predecessors whilst also finding something new, neatly reflecting the multiverse theory that underpins Payne’s writing here. On paper it might seem terribly scientific – “at any given moment, several outcomes can co-exist simultaneously” – but in reality, it is ineffably, unbearably human in the gorgeous contours of Michael Longhurst’s finely tuned production as scenes play and then instantly replay, shifting subtly but crucially each time with the story of Marianne and Roland’s relationship. Continue reading “Review: Constellations, Samuel J Friedman Theatre”

Looking ahead to 2015

I realise I’m just adding (belatedly) to the plethora of 2015 features already published but so many of them trod the boringly familiar ground of forthcoming West End shows (and in the Evening Standard’s case, managed to recommend booking for three shows already sold out from their list of six). So I’ve cast my net a little wider and chosen a few random categories for just some of the shows I’m recommending and looking forward to in 2015.

Continue reading “Looking ahead to 2015”

Radio Review: Denmark Hill / Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight / The Day We Caught The Train

“I have to write an essay on Shakespeare’s view of the family, it’s a bugger”

Denmark Hill is something of a rarity, a 30 year old Alan Bennett television play that never saw the light of day and so remained unproduced until this radio version brought it back to life. A suburban riff on Hamlet which sets it in a contemporary South London, it’s more of an interesting curio than an essential addition to the Bennett canon but it still has many points of interest. A nifty turn of phrase when it comes to a joke, the often ridiculous behaviour of human beings at times of crisis, and a top-notch cast that includes Penny Downie’s Gwen, her new lover George played by Robert Glenister and her angst-ridden son Charles, the ever-lovely Samuel Barnett.

Sadly not a dramatisation of the Ocean Colour Scene song, Nick Payne’s The Day We Caught The Train is a predictably lovely piece of writing from one of our most reliable new writers. Olivia Colman’s Sally is a GP mourning the recent death of her mother, trying hard not to let being a single mother rule her life even if the fact is she hasn’t had sex for a year. We join her on a regular day full of mini-dramas which seem designed to keep her from something special, a date with Ralph Ineson’s kindly David. Naturally, it doesn’t quite go to plan but the way it unfolds into something beautifully moving is skilfully done indeed. Continue reading “Radio Review: Denmark Hill / Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight / The Day We Caught The Train”

TV Review: The Secrets 1 – The Dilemma

“I was wondering if you would help me to die”

It’s kind of an accepted truth now that if Olivia Colman has been cast in something, it is usually in order to win a Bafta for the unerringly heart-breaking way that she breaks a nation’s heart by crying. Whether her performance here in The Dilemma, the first instalment of The Secrets, wins another is for the future to know but be warned, it is an extremely compelling example of this truism.

The Secrets is a series of stand-alone dramas commissioned by the BBC and featuring four “upcoming” writers although in the case of this first one, Nick Payne could well be considered to already have upped and came in the world of theatre (Constellations being his most famous and awarded work). And it will come as little surprise to regular theatregoers that his first piece is a musing on mortality, following hard on the tear-soaked heels of The Art of Dying.

Continue reading “TV Review: The Secrets 1 – The Dilemma”

TV Review: The Secrets 5 – The Return

“I’m trying to tell you something for your own good”

Last but by no means least in The Secrets is The Return, which sees Nick Payne return to the writing table along with Dominic Savage who masterminded the whole shebang as one of the executive producers and director of all five. In this case, matters of the heart were involved once again as Ray and Lorna struggle to tell Ray’s brother Anthony, who has just done time, that they are now together and engaged, the complicating factor being that Anthony was with Lorna before he went inside.

Once again, an impressively slow-burning atmosphere prevails as the secret is kept as long as it can be for fear of unleashing Anthony’s rage, Tosin Cole’s focused anger feels genuinely threatening, and the good intentions of the thoroughly decent Ray and Lorna shine through in Ashley Walters and Pippa Bennett-Warner’s performances – there’s no malice here, just an unfortunate turn of circumstance and the consequences of not facing an awkward truth. Simply but powerfully done.

Review: The Art of Dying, Royal Court

“I was under the impression that my dad was dying”

Nick Payne’s monologue The Art of Dying speaks so eloquently about the death of loved ones and all of little details around it that it would surely be impossible not to be moved by its quiet but fierce emotion. He entwines a hugely moving central narrative about the passing of his father with other stories of people passing and the different ways in which they approach death and those left behind deal with it. Some of it is true, some of it is fictional, but it really doesn’t matter which is which in the end as it is all felt so keenly in Michael Longhurst’s acutely observed production.

Payne delivers the piece from a chair on a bare stage, the only detail a line of pharmaceutical containers high on a shelf and backlit so that it could almost be the silhouette of a cityscape. And though he has risen to fame as a playwright, he makes a genuinely engaging stage presence. Slightly bashful – the glass of water feels almost as much a crutch as liquid refreshment – but also quietly confident, he guides us through the emotional turbulence, offering a metaphorical steadying hand for that moment when the tears start to prickle (even for himself). Continue reading “Review: The Art of Dying, Royal Court”