Under the vast sky

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‘Constellations’, a brilliantly crafted play that raises philosophical questions about free will was recently staged at the NCPA, as part of its golden jubilee celebrations. Prof. Avinash Kolhe reviews the play.

The National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA), a Mumbai-based cultural body engaged in promoting art and culture, is celebrating its golden jubilee year. As a part of its celebrations, it has organised various outstanding events, including some excellent plays. One such play Constellations directed by Bruce Guthrie and written by Nick Payne was staged in the last week of November.

The young British playwright Nick Payne has written plays like ‘If there is I haven’t found it yet’ in 2008 and ‘Wanderlust’ in 2010. Constellations won him accolades at globally. Very recently, the director of Constellations Mr. Bruce Guthrie has taken over as the Head of Theatre and Films at the NCPA. This seems to be his first offering to the connoisseurs of theatre in Mumbai.

As viewers walked into the Experimental Theatre of NCPA complex for the play, they were treated to the sight of bulbs gently hanging from the roof, an obvious metaphor for the stars and our universe. The idea perhaps was to drive home the point that the theme which was going to soon unfold on stage has an universal appeal.

The play is about Roland (Jim Sarbh), a beekeeper and Marianne (Mansi Multani), a cosmologist who meet at a barbeque and fall in love. The play then takes on philosophical tones about the possibilities of life, and what happens or does not happen when one makes a choice, and the consequences of that choice. Marianne often waxes poetic about cosmology, quantum mechanics and yes, string theory too. Once the couple moves in together, the age-old issue of fidelity crops up that finally leads to their separation. Later, they bump into each other at a ballroom dancing class and expectedly resume their relationship and end up marrying each other. In due course, Marianne comes to know that she has a tumour in her frontal lobe and has only a year to live. She finally decides to seek assistance with Rolland’s support. The play ends with few flashbacks in which Roland and Marianne revive their relationship. The play has multiple narratives taking place on stage, and actors Jim and Mansi play switch moods effortlessly. The play raises philosophical questions about free will. Is there a free will or are we playing a pre-determined plot in this universe?

The play may appear to be a run-of-the-mill story about man-woman relationship, but goes on to address the unresolved issues about free will of human beings. The 70-minute play, leaves the audience feeling that they are alone in this vast and perhaps, cruel universe. This is also perhaps the reason why Roland and Marianne cling to each other despite the fact that they do not want to see each other’s face. Though they are with each other, they merrily cheat on each other. This makes them so real, and the audience ends up accepting them for what they are.

Constellations is a wonderfully crafted play that seriously employs other dramatic elements like dialogue, costume, lighting and set design. A special mention of light design by Akshay Khubchandani has to be made, as it leaves the audience spell-bound. The way the bulbs hang on the stage all through the play, glow bright and dim as the situation demands add to the drama. The set design by Andrzej Goulding is stunning, leaving the audience with a feeling of being alone in this vast universe. The two actors Jim and Mansi are full of energy and effortlessly switch moods, lending credibility to their roles. And last, but not the least, the way director Bruce Guthrie has assembled all the dramatic elements to mount this play makes it truly exceptional and worth watching.


Prof. Avinash Kolhe

Prof. Avinash Kolhe retired as Associate Professor in Political Science from D.G. Ruparel College, Mumbai

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