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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Barbican Theatre

By Clive Hirschhorn

Maths and its infinite mysteries was never my strong point, so the prospect of spending an evening in the company of two of the great mathematical geniuses of the 20th century - Cambridge don GH Hardy and Srinivasa Ramanujan, a clerk at the Madras Port Trust, was hardly my idea of an enticing evening in the theatre.

How wrong I was. Complicite's latest offering A Disappearing Number at the Barbican, manages to dramatize complex ideas in a manner that is both entertaining and informative. The company has worked its unique brand of magic into one of the most original theatre pieces you will see this year.

The relationship between Hardy and Ramanujan is, in itself, fascinating. In 1913, Ramanujan - a modest, deeply religious man took the liberty of sending Hardy a letter on which was scrawled several mathematical theorems which the celebrated Cambridge mathematician could not ignore.

Indeed, so impressed was Hardy with Ramanujan's calculations that he invited him to come to England, all expenses paid. It took a great deal of persuasion, but Ramanujan finally agreed, and on arrival took a room in Trinity College where, for the next five years, he lived off a diet of rice and carrots.

His work with Hardy was consistently ground-breaking, but after contracting TB Ramanujan returned to India where he died in 1920 at the age of 32.

In tandem with this purely academic relationship is the contemporary story of Ruth, a brilliant young Maths lecturer in London and the affair she has with Al an American-Asian and futures trader.

The relationship ends tragically when, shortly after marrying Al, she dies during a lecture tour of India of an aneurysm.

As conceived and directed by Complicite's Simon McBurney, these two narrative strands - one cerebral, one emotional - mesh to great theatrical effect - and,as performed by an ensemble company of nine, manage to stimulate the heart as well as the brain. (Did you know that the number 200 has three trillion partitions? No, neither did I.)

As usual with this innovative company, the visual invention, courtesy of Michael Levine's designs and lighting, is full of memorable touches - such as the way a white bed sheet suddenly doubles as a Greenland landscape -with equally atmospheric touches provided by Nitin Sawney's music.

The play lasts two hours and is performed without an interval. Mathematically speaking, the time just flies.


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