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Mathematics of the Heart
Published on Sunday, 29 May 2011

3.5 stars

Marlborough Theatre (venue website)
25-30 May, 9:00pm-10:30pm
Reviewed by Carmel Doohan

 Suitable for age 15+ only.

The theatre has been re-arranged with chairs are set out around the edge of the room, looking in to a space that is full of cardboard boxes. This set-up allows the audience to be used as prop-holders, and general assisters of the action. To an old recording of a mathematician explaining a complex equation, Paul and his girlfriend begin to sort through his dead father’s artifacts.

Paul has a PhD in the science of weather prediction – and a tendency towards inaction. As the unpredictability of his relationships confounds his desire for order, a conflict between practice and theory is played out with intelligence and subtlety. It is full of lovely poetic moments; the ordinary becomes ritualized, as musings on astrological constellations, Greek mathematical theory and love all repeat until they resonate like a riddle – explaining how the characters find themselves caught in their present situation.

The women are believable, alive and full of contradictions. Bella Heesom is luminous as Zainab, and Isabel Pollen has the perfect brittle poise of a woman unable to express her emotions. The men are less successful; Paul's brother Chancer is acted with vigor by Mark Cameron, but even his empathetic turn towards the end cannot redeem the fact that he plays on one clichéd note for far too long. James Wallace, as Paul, does repressed and mild-mannered very well, but doesn't quite render his character three-dimensional.

By the end writer Kefi Chadwick has sculpted a story that allows her themes to be unpacked with authenticity and originality, but a snappier start would have helped this play enormously. A lack of tension in the opening scenes hindered my engagement and made the piece feel overlong. It felt like it still needed a final edit; while some moments were dense with layers of meaning, others that were clearly meant to pack a symbolic punch seemed to flounder.

But this is a piece of writing that, for all its inconsistencies, is full of potential. Using simple cardboard props with sophistication, it is thematically and visually ambitious. And there is a maturity to the way ideas are let slowly simmer, to create a gentle investigation into how happiness might be achieved.

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