Theatre Review: A Disappearing Number @ Novello Theatre

Franco Milazzo
By Franco Milazzo Last edited 100 months ago
Theatre Review: A Disappearing Number @ Novello Theatre

Saskia Reeves as Ruth Minnen (c) Stephanie Berger

1 play. 4 countries. 7 actors. 120 minutes. 0 intervals. There may be strength in numbers but can you count on the Novello's latest offering? We went along on press night to see if it all adds up.

In Complicite's A Disappearing Number, directed and devised by Simon McBurney, mathematics leap off the blackboard and find expression in two relationships linked by tragedy. When originally shown in 2007, the play garnered multiple awards including the Evening Standard's Best Play for that year. The original cast, including Saskia Reeves who was recently on the small screen in the excellent Luther, have regrouped for this latest outing, a fortnight at the Aldwych's Novello Theatre.

The central plot entwines the story of two couples. In the present day, mathematician Ruth (Reeves) finds love with "American-Indian" Al; a century earlier, we see the real-life story of how the Indian prodigy Srinivasa Ramanujan is discovered by Cambridge don GH Hardy. Between and around them, mathematical facts and theories about convergence, decomposition and infinity metaphorically allude to love, death and the hereafter. Those with an allergy to advanced mathematics may find themselves equally amused and bemused.

There are many moments of genuine humour amidst the drama especially when McBurney expounds on modern India and the Indian diaspora that Al comes across in the form of the amusing BT operator from Bangalore and the chambermaid from Greenford of Gujarati descent.

Praise must go to Michael Levine's elaborate stage design which helps while away the two hours with a clever mixture of props and films as we go between planes, trains and automobiles as well as flip across the years between 1914 and the present day. The atmospheric music is scored by Nitin Sawhney who, with McBurney, discusses the play in this clip.

A Disappearing Number runs until September 25 and tickets can be bought through SeeTickets here. If you want to sit in the front stalls, avoid the extreme right hand side (and probably the left too).


You can catch more multi-ethnic stage action by seeing Re-Orientations at Soho Theatre, playing until 25 September.

Also finishing on September 25, David Watson's Pieces of Vincent at the Arcola Theatre comes highly recommended.

We liked The Human Comedy which is showing at the Young Vic until 18 September.

If you like twists and turns, you can catch Deathtrap at the Noel Coward Theatre until January 22.

For an overview of what else is happening in London artwise this week, we provide a handy summary.

Last Updated 16 September 2010