Theatre Review: X&Y, Science Museum

13/10/2013 20:05 BST | Updated 13/12/2013 10:12 GMT


Kids aren't engaging with science. There's no shortage of headlines telling us this so, as part of this wider push to break down the barriers to science, the Twin Primes Theatre Company has created a theatrical production, X & Y, that explores mathematics through theatre.

At the beginning of the show, X (Marcus du Sautoy) stands alone in an illuminated cube that fills the stage. He is happy in his own world - the sides of the cube the beginning and end of his known universe. That there are worlds, possibly even an infinite number of worlds, beyond the confines of his cube is not only not known to X but, according to him, mathematically impossible.

So when Y (Victoria Gould) walks into his cube, unannounced and unexpected, everything X thought to be mathematically true starts to unravel.

It's a great premise but it took a while for me to find my feet - everyone pity the Arts graduate here. Everything started off very pure mathematics. The first 10 minutes are extremely technical with X and Y bonding through their ability to solve algebraic equations. I don't remember that being fun at any point in my life. But as X and Y wrapped themselves in mathematical riddles, it hinted at what was to come - that the application of theoretical mathematics to reality can open up extraordinary questions on our world and our universe.

The short 75-minute piece really hit its stride when personality and humour were injected. As X and Y developed their characters - X technically obsessive but naïve, Y more realistic and witty - so we became more engaged as an audience.

The play's through plot-line is the clash between theory and reality -Y challenging X to put his pure mathematical theories to the test. And much mileage was got out of Y's spot tests of making X explain everyday items such as oranges and bagels.

And from such witty but small beginnings, the play unfolds, moving on to tackle profound questions such as where did the universe come from, does time have an end, and is there something on the other side?

The charisma of the two leads - both mathematicians of some repute as well as actors - is key to the success of the piece. The material isn't perfect - the piece does end up feeling more like a lecture than a production - but by the end of the play even the kids in the audience were laughing along and that surely has got to be a sign of success, right?

To October 16 Science Museum, London

From October 30 - November 3 2013 Manchester Science Festival