National Theatre Live: A Disappearing Number | 11.06.10

The camera work mirrored the naturally shifting focus of an audience member, rather than attempting to manipulate the already complete performance taking place on stage.

We have a lively theatre scene here in St. Louis, but there’s also a big world out there filled with interesting theatre companies and thought-provoking productions. Unfortunately, the nature of live theatre is such that you have to be there when it’s happening, which can pose a problem if you’re in St. Louis and Derek Jacobi, say, is performing in London.
Enter the National Theatre broadcasts (NT Live), which make performances from British theatres available to audiences all over the world. I’ve only attended one of these, last summer’s broadcast of Phedre (, but I found that it preserved the experience of live theatre while making that experience accessible to far more people than could ever hope to attend a performance in London. As one who has both manned a camera and been the technical director for local television broadcasts, I particularly appreciate the skillful way the director and camera crew respected the production’s theatrical, rather than cinematic, acting styles and how the camera work mirrored the naturally shifting focus of an audience member rather than attempting to manipulate the already complete performance taking place on stage.
The first National Theatre broadcast is at the Tivoli Theatre Saturday, Nov. 6, at 11 a.m. The play is A Disappearing Number, conceived and directed by Simon McBurney and produced by the London-based theatre company Complicite. Described by Charles Isherwood of the New York Times as “quietly mesmerizing,” the play tells the stories of two relationships, one fictional and one not, taking place a century apart. In the present day, Ruth, a British mathematics professor, becomes romantically involved with Al, an Indian-American American hedge fund manager who attends one of her lectures. In the early 20th century, British don G.H. Hardy and the brilliant but impoverished Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan share an intellectual relationship (with perhaps an unexpressed undertone; one of his contemporaries referred to Hardy as “a non-practicing homosexual”) that led to discoveries fundamental to the later development of string theory.
The stories are told in a non-linear fashion and the play incorporates music (by Nitin Sawhney), film and video projections (by Sven Ortel) and Indian dance. It also includes a lot of math, which is not only the common link among the principal characters but also serves as a metaphor for the mysteries of human life and the universe as well. But there’s no reason to be intimidated; A Disappearing Number scooped up several major British new play awards in 2007 including the Laurence Oliver Award for Best New Play, the Evening Standard Award for Best Play and the Critics’ Circle Theatre Award for Best New Play, and you know that the juries of such awards are not composed primarily of mathematical experts. If they got it, so can you. | Sarah Boslaugh
Cast for the broadcast of A Disappearing Number includes David Annen (G.H. Hardy), Firdous Bamji (Al Cooper), Paul Bhattacharjee (Aninda Rao), Saskia Reeves (Ruth Minnen) and Shane Shambhu (Srinivasa Ramanujan). Upcoming NT Live broadcasts at the Tivoli include Hamlet directed by Nicholas Hytner and starring Rory Kinnear (Jan. 22, 2011), Fela, a musical about the life of Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti (February 5, 2011), and the Donmar Warehouse production of King Lear directed by Michael Grandage and starring Derek Jacobi (Feb. 19, 2011).

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