entertainment

Constellations review: 'Omari Douglas's star ascends in raw relationship drama with Russell Tovey'

Booking until 11 September at The Vaudeville Theatre in London's West End.

2021-08-26

Words: Jamie Tabberer; pictures: Marc Brenner

Omari Douglas, one of the breakout stars of this year's It's a Sin, is an actor fluent in body language.

In the hit Channel 4 drama, his character Roscoe turned serious looks, but it was Omari's physicality that sold them, whether standing tall in statuesque defiance of his family or posing up a storm at a bar.   

The actor is a similarly strong presence opposite Russell Tovey in Constellations, an absorbing relationship drama currently playing at The Vaudeville Theatre.

And it's thrilling to watch his star ascend in real-time.

Douglas plays Roland, Tovey his on-off-boyfriend Emmanuel, in a play that switches between parallel worlds to explore sometimes subtle and sometimes profound variations in the guys' love story.

The structure is thought-provoking - how might one's own relationship/s have been affected, had we handled certain historic arguments differently? - and calls for abrupt emotional changes, which the actors generally ace; particularly Douglas in a scene involving sign language, where his expressive fluidity of movement almost resembles dance.

Indeed, Douglas and Tovey are tasked with finding countless contrasting shades and textures in their characters; no tall order given the punishingly sparse staging and the fact the guys never change out of their shirts and chinos.

Even tougher: they must often repeat dialogue word-for-word over and over, imbuing it with different feeling each time. Thus, what sounds pleading in one scene might sound sarcastic the next, and foreboding the next, and on and on.

Actorly muscles are flexed in rapid succession, and on the whole, it's compelling. 

That said, Tovey's character, or characters, feel familiar. A mere change of accent might have solved the problem. Then again, perhaps such recognisability can't be helped - such is the curse of being one of the country's most prominent actors, of having amassed so many memorable roles. 

Still, the audience ate up Tovey's charm and comic timing, not to mention the palpable chemistry between the two leads, which the show lives and dies on. There were standing ovations, although this writer missed the memo about the snappy running time (75 minutes without interval) and was genuinely perplexed when it ended.

Cleverly playing on the theme of alternation, Tovey and Douglas will be role-sharing with Anna Maxwell Martin and Chris O’Dowd in Constellations through to mid-September. And the gay characters' interchangeability with straight ones of course underlines how this, really, is a story about something other than sexuality. There are no excruciating coming-out scenes, put it that way!

Rating: 3/5

The Donmar Warehouse's production of Constellations is currently running at the Vaudeville Theatre, just outside of London’s Seven Dials. For tickets, visit nimaxtheatres.com.

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