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A Disappearing Number review at Barbican Theatre London

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Returning to the Barbican after its triumphant 2007 premiere, A Disappearing Number has lost none of the visual inventiveness and mystical charm that scooped it a hat trick of theatrical awards last year.

Weaving the twin stories of an Indian maths genius coming to Cambridge at the time of the First World War and a modern day love story between a Brunel University professor and her Indian-American husband, the play’s theme is the interconnectedness of the universe, as proven both by mathematics and human feeling.

Srinivasa Ramanujan was just a humble clerk in the Port Trust Office of Madras when he wrote to Cambridge don GH Hardy about the extraordinary mathematical discoveries he had made in his spare time – their subsequent intense but short-lived collaboration had a profound impact both on the study of mathematics and the lives of these two men from seemingly opposing universes.

Meanwhile, Al and Ruth’s fictional story tells primarily of the latter’s journey away from the “mathematical reality” that has nourished her for years towards a more meaningful connection with another person, her untimely death in India mirroring that of the genius whose work she is studying.

Complicite’s production bombards the senses, as the strains of the tabla (played live by Hiren Chate) combine with Nitin Sawhney’s hypnotic soundtrack and video footage of Madras’ hot, pungent streets.

Beautiful physical compositions form on stage and are whisked away again in the blink of an eye with a revolving screen – at one point, Ramanujan’s womenfolk perform traditional Indian dances behind his work desk as numbers fall like snow against the walls and Hardy encircles the scene on his bicycle.

Firdous Bamji and Saskia Reeves’ moving performances as and Al and Ruth inevitably take centre stage in a production whose kaleidoscopic composite parts still add up to something very special.

Production Information

Barbican Theatre, London, October 10-November 1

Simon McBurney
Barbican Bite08
David Annen, Firdous Bamji, Paul Bhattacharjee, Hiren Chate, Divya Kasturi, Chetna Pandya, Saskia Reeves, Shane Shambhu
Running time
1hr 45mins
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