Arts / When the particles start flying

Welsh actor Kristian Jenkins (as Roland) and Canberra’s Lexi Sekuless (as Marianne) in “Constellations”.

SCIENCE meets art and humanity in a hit romantic comedy coming to The Street Theatre soon, but it’s not as simple as it sounds.

Indeed, many people might find the idea behind “Constellations” daunting, even terrifying; as the celebrated quantum physicist Niels Bohr once said: “Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it”. That would be most of us.

British playwright Nick Payne has found theatrical momentum in the scientific principle that energy is not continuous, but rather comes in small units or “quanta”.

So far, so good. Sensitive, professional beekeeper Roland (Kristian Jenkins) meets theoretical physicist and cosmologist Marianne (Lexi Sekuless) at a barbecue and the particles start flying.

Payne has made the particles of quantum mechanics into the objective for the vagaries, uncertainties and chanciness of human relationships in what Hollywood might call a “sliding doors” or “back-to-the-future” scenario.

Marianne and Roland’s first dates, proposal, breakups, reunions and affairs are worked and reworked over and over again in a 70-minute theatrical powerhouse that had the West End reeling with excitement when the play was first seen in 2012.

Marianne is the intellectual partner in this relationship, a quantum theorist with a penchant for articulating her feelings – most of the time.

In contrast, Roland provides the foil to Marianne’s intellect. It makes for an immensely humorous set of initial encounters, a playful element in “Constellations” that set designer Imogen Keen has taken particular note of – in her view, it’s a case of two people “ballroom dancing”.

Director Caroline Stacey, holding up the cerebral side of the dramatic equation, believes it’s a play about choices, asking her cast: “If you make a decision in one place, what are the consequences, what’s the flow-through?”

Welsh actor Kristian Jenkins, a graduate of London’s Drama Centre, plays Roland, whom he describes as “quite earthy and romantic”. Canberra’s Lexi Sekuless, a first-class honours graduate from London’s Central School of Speech and Drama, playing Marianne, has been busy meeting physicists.

It’s their job to keep the sparks flying, but consistent with the ever-flying particles of quantum mechanics, you might never be able to draw any conclusions at the end of “Constellations”. Jenkins sums it up as, “raising questions rather than giving answers – in true postmodern spirit.”

“Constellations”, The Street Theatre, July 14-29. Bookings to thestreet.org.au or 6247 1223.

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