Beekeeper boy meets boffin blonde at a barbecue. Only, he’s married. So that’s that. Or “just out of a relationship”. So that’s that. Or they hit it off – then what happens? All these rapid permutations are presented in snappy scenes that instantly convey the conceit of Nick Payne’s well-travelled two-hander: the meet-cute in the multiverse.
From here, we follow multiple versions of Marianne (Sarah Morris) and Roland (Brian Gleeson) as their relationship blossoms or collapses. There’s love, betrayal, will-they, won’t-they, proposals accepted and rejected, illness.
Marianne is an astrophysicist, and so can helpfully expound on relativity, quantum mechanics and string theory, the more abstruse inferences from which raise on the very big scale and the very tiny scale mind-bending questions about the nature of time, reality and the origin of the universe (or universes).
Is free will an illusion if all potential outcomes can exist? Bees offer an opposite metaphor: they know their jobs, they know their place. They have one thing to do, and then they die. We may think in the metaphors of complex science, but we’re probably happier if we try to live like bees.
For all its allusions to physics and biology, a lot here depends on the chemistry between the leads, and Morris and Gleeson are excellent under Marc Atkinson Borrull’s direction as they swing in an instant from emotion to emotion, adding subtle textures and avoiding any dull repetitiveness. Molly O'Cathain’s set winks at the title with its multiple chandeliers overhanging, like little galaxies, a mirrored space.
Despite a conceptual framework that suggests infinite possibility, as Marianne and Roland’s multiple lives progress we feel those possibilities narrow. The structure remains the same throughout: rapid scenes of tweaked dialogue leading to different outcomes. But nonetheless, Payne points us in a clear direction – towards the universe in which Marianne’s fine mind is ravaged by a tumour. In such dire circumstances, we would all ponder our fate, and ask why and what if.
But, Payne seems to suggest that whatever twists our journeys might take, the destination is inescapable. And it’s this that grabs us in a love story. The clever idea, and the demands it places on the actors, are compelling, and often very funny. But whatever theory of reality we may ponder, our real experience tells us you only live once, and that’s what makes life seem important, what gives meaning to love and loss.
- Until June 2