Entertainment & Arts

Constellations: Spall and Hawkins take hit play to West End

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Media captionThe play features 100 different scenes in an hour and five minutes

British actors Rafe Spall and Sally Hawkins are taking a break from Hollywood to revisit love story Constellations, as the hit play transfers to London's West End.

Constellations is not your typical West End show, according to one of its two stars, Rafe Spall.

"There's no big song and dance numbers, and no one's wearing a ruff," he explains, adding that it's great to see "straight theatre" having a home there.

The alternative romance has proved one of the Royal Court's most successful plays and is one of three, alongside Jumpy and Posh, to transfer to London's Duke of York's Theatre this year.

Written by Nick Payne, Constellations was an instant hit when it opened in January and is up for best play at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards later this month.

With a running time of just 65 minutes, it's perfect for short attention spans, but as a two-hander, that's also a lot of pressure.

"To remember an hour and five minutes of continuous dialogue is really stressful!" says Spall.

In Constellations he plays "a handsome young man", a beekeeper called Roland, opposite Hawkins' quantum physicist, Marianne.

The couple explore some rather mind-bending theories about the universe, known as multiverse, and their relationship's many possible permutations.

"There's 100 different scenes in an hour and five minutes," explains Spall, which he says can get confusing.

His co-star Hawkins adds: "You see them jump from different dimension to different dimension and you see the scene played out in different ways.

Image caption Constellations is up for best play at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards later this month

"To remember which scene you are in and which dimension of the universe you are in... There's no props, there's no stage furniture. It's just you up there and you've only got each other."

Luckily for Spall and Hawkins they have already had some practice, during the play's four week run in the Royal Court's 90-seat Upstairs theatre earlier this year.

"[It's] a tiny theatre and that is scary, seeing everyone's faces on press night. Because you can see more or less what reviews they're writing on their pads," laughs Spall.

Scarier still though was having his family in the audience. In particular, his dad, the actor Timothy Spall - who Rafe says taught him to act by shouting out what was good or bad on the TV.

"The most nervous I ever am, much more than London's press coming to watch me on stage, is my dad," reveals Spall, whose own TV roles include Channel 4 comedy Pete Vs Life and dark BBC drama The Shadow Line.

"When my dad came and watched Constellations it was the scariest time of my life."

Hollywood success

Both stars say it was important to challenge themselves in the theatre as the big screen beckons.

Hawkins followed her 2009 Golden Globe for Mike Leigh's Happy Go Lucky with roles in British films such as Made in Dagenham and Submarine.

Later this month we'll see her in Great Expectations alongside Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter, and Woody Allen picked her for a starring role in his untitled new film, opposite Cate Blanchett.

Following Spall's scene-stealing turn as One Day's 'Mr Wrong', Ian, he's now been promoted to romcom leading man.

He stars opposite Rose Byrne in I Give It a Year, due around Valentine's Day from Working Title, the company that gave us Four Weddings and a Funeral and Bridget Jones.

"Who would have thought?" says Spall breaking into a huge grin, indicating he is more than happy getting a crack at becoming the next Hugh Grant.

Image caption Spall plays author Yann Martel in the film adaptation of Life of Pi

Next month, however, we'll see Spall in Ang Lee's Life of Pi, playing the author of the Man Booker Prize-winning novel about an Indian boy shipwrecked with a Bengal tiger.

He says it was "strange" being brought in at the last minute to replace Spider-Man star Tobey Maguire, after producers spotted him in Ridley Scott's epic Alien-inspired blockbuster Prometheus.

However Spall has his own, slightly modest theory as to what sealed the deal. Definitely not acting talent. Definitely his hair.

"I play Yann Martel the writer of the novel, and I actually look a bit like him. We've both got curly hair.

"There's not that many curly-haired actors out there. My agent said to me, 'there's never been a curly-haired leading man, so sort it out!'"

Whether that curly hair helped him land the role in Constellations remains a mystery.

However both stars do admit to being nervous about the play's move, despite the comfort of less actual audience eye contact that comes with a larger theatre.

And of course there is the small matter of remembering all those lines.

"I literally feel anxious now thinking about it," says Spall.

"But that's all part of the fun. I think that's part of the fun of going to see a play as well, you know, as an audience member -that there's people up there really trying not to mess up."

Constellations is at The Duke of York's Theatre in London until 5 January 2013.

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