“Maths is a language created by humans to find the wonder and the transcendental about the world and the universe, as well as the beauty, power and fragility of the human soul. Like theatre, maths is another abstract way of explaining the inexplicable; it allows us to turn knowns into unknowns, and vice versa.”
La Boîte Theatre Company’s 2018 season is a boon for women artists, with the female voice central to every new production this year. It began with writer Kathryn Marquet’s grim but entertaining The Dead Devils of Cockle Creek, and continues with acclaimed playwright Suzie Miller’s The Mathematics of Longing.
Using Isaac Newton’s three laws of motion as its starting point, The Mathematics of Longing explores interpersonal relationships and the human heart through a series of vignettes about love, sex, rockstar living, the loss of a child and mathematical theorems.
It’s a lovely idea, that maths and physics can explain the most complex of human emotions. For playwright Suzie Miller, it’s also a deeply personal belief inspired by her relationship with her father, a man Miller describes as a mathematical genius. And, reluctantly, I’d say this is where the play weakens. Still mourning the death of her father last year, Miller is perhaps too close to the subject matter to effectively edit her work. Though sensitively portrayed by the cast, and truly funny in parts, the script feels overwrought—weighed down by an overabundance of mathematical metaphors for love and relationships. Writing The Mathematics of Longing was undoubtedly a means of catharsis for Miller, a chance to pay homage to someone deeply important to her. But my sense is that the script might benefit from an incubation period and revision once her grief is not so palpable.
Script issues aside, my overwhelming feeling is that too many cooks have spoiled the brew. There are a lot of creatives behind The Mathematics of Longing. A first-time collaboration between La Boîte, dance theatre company The Farm, and UK/Australian production company The Uncertainty Principle, the performers – Kate Harman, Todd MacDonald (Artistic Director of La Boite), Ngoc Phan, Merlynn Tong and Gavin Webber – are also listed as co-creators, having jointly devised and directed the work. That’s a serious number of worthy voices and performance elements to cram into a one hour play—especially when combined with music by Regurgitator’s Ben Ely and an incredibly beautiful (and instantly recognisable) set design by contemporary artist Ross Manning. The result is a piece of theatre that feels a bit like a wedding cake — one with the lot.
That being said, I met a lovely young girl after the show who self-identified as living with Autism Spectrum Disorder and she was raving. She adored the play and openly wept through most of it because it spoke to her the way nothing else had. So…who the hell am I to say what makes for a successful show? Perhaps The Mathematics of Longing does clarify complex human emotions after all.
One last thing! I might not have loved The Mathematics of Longing, but I love that it exists. It is imperative that we have spaces like La Boîte, and philanthropists like Philip Bacon, who are willing to support artistic visions such as this one and take risks on experimental works. It is the only way that fresh voices and fresh ideas will ever be uncovered, and the only way to ensure a thriving arts sector. There needs to be more of it in this country, and it needs to be supported by the theatre-going public.
For that reason alone, The Mathematics of Longing is worth the price of admission.
Images supplied by La Boite Theatre Company. Photography: Art-Work Agency.
The Mathematics of Longing
Roundhouse Theatre, La Boîte Theatre Company, Kelvin Grove
Season Dates: 2–23 June 2018