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Beekeeping and the multi-verse: We interview Constellations stars Sally Hawkins & Rafe Spall...

CultureCritic | 05.November.2012 | 16:19

When we spoke to Rafe Spall and Golden Globe-winner Sally Hawkins, about their new play, Constellations, opening on Friday at the Duke of York's London, it was patently clear that they get on like a house on fire, and that's a blessing - this piece by hot young playwright Nick Payne is a tender but complex two-hander about love and... quantum physics. 

It's not really new – the two actors premiered it at the Royal Court last winter, and it's just been longlisted for Best Play by the Evening Standard awards. So how are they both feeling about a reprisal, and why does Rafe sometimes pretend to be an East End gangster?


Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall in Constellations, at the Duke of York's from Friday 

Constellations is an unconventional piece in many ways – it leaps from universe to universe, and has a high-level scientist as one of its main characters. How would you describe it?

Sally Hawkins: Rafe's gotten very good at describing it! But maybe I could try, and then you can take over Rafe?

Rafe Spall: Yeah, go on. Give it a go! 

Sally: Ok. I suppose it's a love story, but it deals with the multi-verse. I'm playing a quantum physicist, Marianne. 

Rafe: What's multi-verse, Sally?

Sally: Multi-verse is, Rafe, I'll come back to that. [Laughter]. You have to come see the play!

Rafe: Ok, alright, I will.

Sally: It puts different dimensions on stage, as it were, in that it charts a relationship from the beginning right up until the end. You see various possibilities of what could have happened at different stages in this relationship.

Rafe: That does it massive credit.

What did you both think when you first read the script? What excited you about it?

Rafe: I'm very excited by Nick Payne. I think he's one of the best young writers in the country.  I've done one of his plays before which I really enjoyed. What really excited me about this play is that it's existential, but also romantic, and that is no mean feat. It's a play with themes of physics, and multi-verse, but it's got a massive emotional heart at the core. And it's funny, it's for everybody, it's not in any way dry - I'm not interested in going on about physics, and this isn't a play about physics. It's a play about love, and the profundity of.... the knife-edge between how things can go right and wrong.

Sally: Yes, Absolutely. And it's so clever: it just sort of grounds the quantum world in the love story. It's beautiful and it's very thrilling to play.

Rafe: It made me laugh; it's funny; it's warm...

Sally: And it's difficult. I mean, when I first read it, I was quite scared. You think, ‘I have no idea how to do this, or this scene', or whether you can translate it, whether people will get it, really. It's like nothing I've seen.

Rafe:  They got it though.

Sally: They did! They got it. That's why we're doing it again.

Sally Hawkins

Sally Hawkins was highly praised for her role in Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky, and will reportedly star in Woody Allen's next film.

The play premiered last year, and it's an intense piece, with you two being the only cast members. What is that like - are you getting sick of each other...?

Rafe:  Oh no. I missed Sally.

Sally: Aw I missed you too.

Rafe: We started rehearsal for this play last December and then we did it in January so we had about nine months of not doing it. We didn't know if we were going to, or in what capacity we were going to do it again. It's been really lovely to revisit it.

Sally: I feel very lucky, actually, that I'm working with you [Rafe] cause it's all about trust, and timing, and you have to know that the other person's there. And I love being on stage. I find working with you really exciting. It makes it so much easier when you really love the person you're with, and who you're seeing every night.

Rafe: What I would love to do before the play, in order to warm up, rather than, like, do downward dog on stage, is go and sit in Sally's dressing room for an hour just have a chat. And that was one of the nicest parts of my day. So we're not sick of each other.

Sally: It's been really nice. I've always wanted to do something with you because I've worked with your dad [Timothy Spall]...

Rafe: So yeah, generations...

Sally: I know; I feel lucky. 

Rafe: And one day you'll work with my children.... [laughter]

Rafe Spall

Rafe Spall has starred in Hot Fuzz and Prometheus.

Did the director [Michael Longhurst] know that you two would have this chemistry?

Rafe: No, he didn't. We were cast separately. We turned up at the first day of rehearsal and really got on.

Sally: I think it's luck.

Rafe: Yes, you hope it's going to be there, and you can't pretend, you can't fake chemistry or magic.

The form of this play is unusual - it uses a lot of repetition, as scenes occur again but not quite as they were. Was that hard, as an actor?

Sally: It was. I still find it hard. I've still got a hold of the script, I won't let it go! You want to honour every single line and change; because that's key to the play, it's the subtlety - the similarities of the scenes, but it's their differences that sort of propel you on to the next scene. So you make sure that you know every single comma and word. It goes at such a pelt, it has to be almost a muscle memory. 

Rafe: Yeah, it is a scary thing.

Sally, you play a physicist and Rafe your character, Roland is a beekeeper. They're unusual professions. Have you ever experienced awkwardness or surprise in reaction to what you do?

Rafe: Well I often lie. People say, ‘What do you do?' I say, ‘I'm an actor'. ‘Oh yeah, what have you been in?' and you'll go, ‘An obscure BBC4 thing that you've probably never seen', and they go: ‘Never heard of it'. 'Well, I was in the film called Hot Fuzz', ‘Oh, I didn't like that,' ‘oh, Okay...' Cab drivers are the best for that. So now, my stock thing for them is, they'll go, ‘So what do you do, then?' and I say: ‘a bit of this, bit of that.' They go, ‘Say no more.'

Sally: Say no more! [Laughter] It's like you're in the mafia!

Rafe: It is! They don't want to pry, in case your some...

Sally: I wouldn't ask any more.

Constellations runs from 9 November to 5 January 2013. For more information visit

Rachel Potts 

Sorry no reviews have been returned.

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