A Response to ‘The Mathematics of Longing’ from Yen-Rong Wong

The Mathematics of Longing combines two of my favourite things: maths and theatre. It does so in a way that celebrates maths and science and storytelling, instead of treating them like opposing entities that could not possibly ever meet. It is a labour of creativity and love, a production borne not just from a singular script, but collaborations between the playwright, Suzie Miller, and the ensemble—Ngoc Phan, Merlynn Tong, Todd MacDonald, Gavin Webber, and Kate Harman—all of whom are listed as co-creators of the work.

And on a cold, rainy, Thursday night in the Roundhouse Theatre at La Boite, Dr Christian Heim, a clinical psychiatrist, music lecturer, and associate lecturer at the University of Queensland, invites a small section of the audience who have decided to stay behind to share their thoughts about this play.

 

There is discussion around the nature of humanity, especially as it relates to the vastness of the universe—how our grief and our problems are so important to us, and yet are simultaneously so insignificant when it comes to the grand scheme of things. There is discussion around the juxtaposition of mathematical and scientific facts with that of emotions, and how they work with each other. There is discussion around how the movement in the work changes its dynamic, how this sense of controlled chaos conveys imagery that would not otherwise be possible through words alone.

There is a discussion of how the work enables an analysis of the spaces in between—in between particles, people, relationships, in between the tangible and the intangible, in between the performers and audience.

The set, consisting of a platform raised quite high above the floor, with three sets of stairs leading up to it, looms behind Dr Heim as this discussion unfolds. In the play, the cast stand atop it, directly below it, hang off it, entwine their bodies in the spaces between the steps. It is a rock star’s stage, a living room, a bedroom.

When the cast join Dr Heim, he asks about them what it is like to create a work with no specific direction, how this randomness affected the process of putting a play together.

McDonald says that the making of the show was quite intuitive, and that every time he does the show he learns something different. Tong was excited by the experience of getting notes from both actors and dancers, and Pham agrees, noting that exploring scenes through “dacting” (a combination of dancing and acting) really helped to bring the important notes of the work to the surface. Webber and Harman, dancers with The Farm, talk about getting used to different performers’ modes of communication, of focusing on the emotion and the relationships in the Miller’s text as a starting point, and discovering the ways in which maths weaves its way into their work.

 

Harman notes that there is an intuition to dance and movement, of doing something just because it feels right, “a trust that your body knows what it’s doing”—and it is this intuition that adds a different dimension to the play. Dance is, as Webber says, a way of providing subtext, of telling a parallel story, a poetic device that opens up more avenues for interpretation, more possibilities for an audience.

Dance provides speed and direction, a velocity that amplifies the energy that is already present within the text. This partnership between dance and theatre seems fitting for a play that explores our relationship with time and space, of the possibility of parallel universes and stories and endings.

I have always been able to see the beauty in maths. I have always been able to see the patterns that make it so robust and yet so fragile, the patterns that almost tease you to go deeper, explore further. And I have always loved stories—writing them, watching them, consuming them. I have never really understood the appeal of pitting the sciences against the humanities and the arts, and yet this mentality persists.

I have been waiting for something like this play for a while, and I am so very glad it is now here. During the discussion, an audience member mentioned that the play made them feel a sense of freedom, and a feeling of wanting to branch out and to move forward. I would have to agree with them—so here’s to more maths and more stories in all of our lives.

See The Mathematics of Longing at La Boite from the 2nd until the 23rd of June


Words by Yen-Rong Wong

Images by Art-Work Agency

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