Guest review – A Disappearing Number by Complicite at the Barbican

Sunday 16 September 2007

Well, there was a certain amount of disagreement in the West End Whingers office over this one – so much so that the bar staff asked us to “keep it down” as people couldn’t hear the karaoke.

Andrew – who has a secret maths geek inside him bursting to get out – was desperate to see A Disappearing Number at The Barbican, it being about “one of the most mysterious and romantic mathematical collaborations of all time”.

Phil, however, responded tartly that he was “so over Complicite” (he’s getting very American these days due to the amount of American telly programmes he watches. He says “OMG!” a lot too).

There followed some rather disagreeable to-ing and fro-ing on the matter and a debate as to (a) whether “Complicite” is the same thing as ” Théâtre de Complicité” (it is) and (b) why they might have dropped the French accents (too pretentious? no, that can’t have been it) and (c) whether “Complicite” is pronounced “compli-site” and (d) if not, why not?

Anyway, the end result was that we were too exhausted from pondering these really important questions , so we sent along Would-be Whinger Samira Ahmed to represent us and asked her to report back on whether or not we should bother. This is her report:

I wouldn’t put it in the same circle of hell as A Matter of Life and Death, but there is a similar moment with nurses in uniform and the casualties of world war one which was banal in the extreme.

The programme was the first warning sign. The first article: the director going on about how fabulously exotic and intoxicating India is. Second: a reproduction of an email from another artiste about how fabulously exotic and exciting India is and how great this show is going to be!

We went with high hopes and it’s had some great reviews, but after a strong start it quickly descends into a tableaux, intercut with banal ITV drama about 40 somethings having a miscarriage. The only fully realised character is the Indian lady at the other end of the phone in a Bangalore call centre. Never mind the maths, clearly it was all a bit too hard trying to understand the enigmatic mathematician they claim is the heart of their story, so he pretty much never says anything!

But I did learn something.. Apparently you can survive for quite a long time eating nothing but rice, salt and lemon juice.

And Paul Bhattarcharjee is always fabulous.

Maybe you’ll love it?

Maybe. We shall never know. Thanks, Samira. You’ve saved us a trip and we promise to buy you that drink eventually.

If you would like to know more about the production there’s a video here.

8 Responses to “Guest review – A Disappearing Number by Complicite at the Barbican”

  1. Arthur Says:

    Was just wondering does Phil say “Oh My God!” a lot, or actaully just the letters “[Oh]-[Em]-[Jee]”? Since they are both equal in terms of number of syllables, I wonder what is gained by using the second one?


  2. I think in your heart you know the answer to that question, don’t you Arthur? It’s sad, but true.

  3. barry apple Says:

    i though the maths was interesting but any scene with that irritating american baldy was like having my scrotum squeezed.

    loved the story of the brahim genius though

  4. Jess Says:

    I totally disagree, i thought the whole play was absolutly incredible-although a little confusing at times. I saw it as a production for AS level Drama coursework and it has given me so much to right about.The philosophies beyhind it, and the ideas that everythign is connected really gives the audience a thing to think about. For any enquiring minds, they should find it fascinating to think that there is an infinity of infinities, and between every number there is an infinate amount of numbers inside. The relevence of the clock, and the Brahmin story all fitted in fantastically. Ok so i might not understand the whole play totally, but that is part of the mystery of a complicite play, with evident Brechtian influences.

  5. Marc Says:

    Completely agree with Samira. What a load of pretentious rubbish A Disappearing Number was. Warning bells went off the minute the usher told me it was over two hours long and with no interval. The only thing I learned was how long it takes a bottle of (very expensive) beer takes to work its way to my bladder.
    For Jess to suggest that “enquiring” minds would find it fascinating is a stereotypical generalisation. Any “enquiring” minds would have learned what infinite was in primary school and already thought along those tracks many years ago.
    Having said this I am severely dyslexic, Numerical and literal, so maybe I was confused by the intellectual undertone. I do however understand very well the creative side and that, I can whole heartedly say, was very below par. Maybe the fact that Jess is doing an AS level Drama course shows just what standard the piece was. In an educational system that spoon feeds opinions and “facts” about dramatical history and writers intent I think A Disappearing Number could leave more up to the imagination of their very bored audience.

  6. Melissa Says:

    I though the production was well intwined and the parallel stories collaborated very well.
    However i wanted to know the meaning behind the persistant chanting. At first i thought it was number chanting however i believe there is a hidden meaning behind this. Perhaps chanting to gods. I was wondering if anyone had any ideas they could feedback to me if possible. Thanks.

  7. Alton Says:

    A fantastic site, and brilliant effort. A great piece of work.,

  8. Jenny Says:

    I totally agree with Jess. I think the production was absolutely brilliant. Marc – I am also severly dyslexic. I did not understand much of the maths referneces, but this did not affect my enjoyment of the piece. The two parallel stories; the unbelievable skill of the actors; the precision of movement; the effective use of projection and sound….all of this – for me – made it one of the best things I have seen in the West End for a long time. I now cannot wait for Complicite’s next performance!


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