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Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Whereas Posh punched its same weight and Jumpy improved on its transfer to the Duke of York's, Nick Payne's Constellations, a delightful gem in the Court’s upstairs studio, seems a little more forced and more mannered in this Royal Court West End season.

The criss-cross alternative scenarios in the love affair between Sally Hawkins' university cosmologist and Rafe Spall's bumbling bee-keeper can still be enjoyed as witty variations on each other while demonstrating scientific theory about quantum mechanics and multiverse physics.

Or is that multiverse mechanics and quantum physics? Constellations is primarily an exercise in chat-up lines, coming together, growing apart and finally the inevitability with which we are sucked into one course of behaviour through illness, accident, a party invitation or sheer laziness.

It's fast, funny and quite beautifully acted. And if you didn't see it before, you should cut along to St Martin's Lane right now.

But Michael Longhurst's production, designed by Tom Scutt on a square platform hung with a canopy of violently changing white molecular balloons – Lee Curran's lighting is not for the faint-hearted – is far more fixed and far less fluid than before.

In the Upstairs, you could enjoy the diagrammatic ebb and flow, the movement and surprise attitudes of the actors; indeed this was the point of it, whereas now there's a more sculpted element to the staging.

I'm surprised, in fact, that the play hasn't been suspended further into the auditorium with the audience on all sides. The Duke of York's has a treacherous acoustic, and sometimes Hawkins forgets to float her words a little stronger; too many sentences evaporate in the ether.

There's a lot of rumbling in the background – trains, the universe, or just ominous sound effects? Not sure – and the early introduction of personal misfortune into the lists seems somehow to load the play too much in one direction for the joy and possibilities it otherwise suggests.

But who could resist any piece, however short (70 minutes) and slight, that opens with the line, "Do you know why you can’t lick the tips of your elbows?" And the linguistic finesse with which thoughts themselves can be scrambled at speed, or a single phrase alter the meaning of a previously heard paragraph, marks Payne out as a genuine stylist with something to say.


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