The concept of parallel universes tends to blow most people’s brains, particularly those of us in the arts who do not have much by means of scientific knowledge. However, Constellations by Nick Payne explores a relationship through the idea of these alternate worlds and the many different paths one person can take. Carla van der Sluijs, The Tribe Theatre Editor, met with Al Gillespie, the director of this unusual play, to find out more.


Carla: Why this play in particular?

Al: I had a friend at school who found maths pretty in the same way that I find poetry pretty. I think there is a false dichotomy between art and science. For example, maths asks similar questions to philosophy about free will. This play stood out to me because it packages science and romance together brilliantly. Tom Stoppard creates ‘idea plays’ such as Arcadia which examines chaos theory, and Nick Payne does a similar thing. However, Stoppard is sometimes criticized for being too dry and there is a sense that he enjoys knowing more than everyone else. This doesn’t happen in Constellations. Nick Payne keeps it simple and produces big ideas but doesn’t package them in a grand way.

C: Why should we come and see it?

A: For one thing, it’s funny. I’m aiming to make you laugh and cry but also teach you something. Even if you hate science or theatre you should still come and see it. Also the two actors in this show (Jared Liebmiller and Kate Kitchens) are simply fantastic and really at the top of their game. The chemistry between them is great.

C: What’s the motivation behind sending all profits to Perth Royal Infirmary?

A: My Grandma stayed at the infirmary while she was suffering from cancer and the people there are absolutely lovely. It made me really want to do something for them.  I didn’t process my Grandma’s death as well as I could have done and, in truth, I’ve found directing the show to be quite cathartic. It’s helped me come to terms with it all.

Hard at work in rehearsal! Photo from Al Gillespie

Hard at work in rehearsal! Photo from Al Gilesppie

C: How would you sum up your style of directing and what techniques have you used for this play?

A: To put it in three words: ‘less is more.’ My last show, Equus, was a much bigger project and I had more of an architectural role as director. This achieves great performances but not great actors as you can end being too prescriptive. In Constellations I’m looking for acting rather than performing. It’s much more crafted. My biggest pet peeve in theatre is actors speaking in an ‘acting voice.’ It just doesn’t sound natural and happens when actors are over-thinking their performances. For this show I’m co-ordinating really organic conversation and reactions. This isn’t easy as, due to all the parallel universes, there are around 50 different versions of the two characters. We need to find out what is different about them in each scene and I’m encouraging Kate and Jared to find three actions which show their emotion but not to tell the other person what they are. This creates the kind of spontaneity that I’m going for.

C: You’ve done a lot of reviewing in St Andrews. How do you think that affects your performance?

A: Reviewing teaches you the little things you don’t like, such as pushing for reactions and trying too hard to make the audience cry. It’s important to see theatre wherever possible, but reviewing helps you formulate your opinions on it. You need a motto or a mission plan as a director and writing reviews can help with that. My big thing is that I’m not looking to change the world through my work, but I like the sense of theatre being somewhere semi-spiritual. We’re all so connected through social media, and it’s nice to have a place where people sit still and shut up, a bit like going to church.

C: And finally, why ‘one night only?’

A: I like the idea of unique experiences and I think this makes the show even more special. However, we wouldn’t completely object to a repeat performance if this one was well received…

Constellations is being performed on 13th October at 19:30 at The Stage in The Union. Tickets are £6 and can be reserved by emailing Some audience members will be seated on the floor so Al advises bringing cushions/blankets/anything to make you comfortable.


Carla van der Sluijs