Wharf 1 Theatre, August 3


Your jaw drops before a word is said. Hanging from the flies is an otherworldly, golden, donut-shaped ceiling that could be made of sea sponge or brain matter. It looms low over the stage, with a pristine white dome in its centre and light traversing its perimeter in a way that suggests space travel.

Jonny Carr and Catherine Van-Davies. All photos: Prudence Upton.

Nick’s Payne’s 2012 play specifies no setting, so this astonishing creation has burst from the imaginations of designer Isabel Hudson and director Ian Michael. It sets us up for a mind-expanding night in the theatre, in which Payne embraces the concept of the multiverse, whereby every atom, being, event and experience may exist in multiple universes. It does not matter whether this is concurrent or sequential, because time is no longer a continuum.

Into this set of possibilities Payne inserts two characters: Marianne (Catherine Van-Davies), a physicist specialising in theoretical early universe cosmology, and Roland (Jonny Carr), a beekeeper. He then runs a science experiment on their relationship, offering variations on their meeting, dating, moving in together, breaking-up, reconnecting, reconciling and dealing with Marianne’s brain cancer diagnosis.

Photos: Prudence Upton.

These events are like shards of a broken window that are picked up and scrutinised from different angles in different light, while still constituting a window. Scenes are repeated two, three or even four times, with Michael constantly having to decide how to relocate the actors on the round, raked stage to indicate a fresh take on the same event. Often that fresh take includes a new variant, just as minimalist music evolves with tiny incremental changes.

If that all sounds like an exercise in abstraction, in fact it’s the opposite. The characters are engaging, funny and moving. Their lines must be fiendishly difficult to deliver in the right order, and so clear direction is as vital for the actors as for the audience. Michael certainly provides that, and is rewarded with stellar performances. Van-Davies breaks our hearts when brain cancer affects her ability to speak, and Carr’s rustic tries so desperately to do right, often without understanding what that entails.

Benjamin Brockmans’ lighting and James Brown’s music are complicit in removing us from reality and burying us in it in the same breath. It’s all over in 80 minutes, but it’s probably happening somewhere else simultaneously. Or not.

Until September 2.