Maths has proved a fruitful topic for theatre, with patterns and complexity rich in metaphors of beauty, truth and human nature – most memorably in Theatre de Complicité’s A Disappearing Number, about the collaboration between two of the 20th century’s greatest mathematicians.
The protagonist of Kefi Chadwick’s Mathematics of the Heart is no such genius. Professor of chaos theory at a minor London university, Dr Paul Macmillan (Mark Healy) is studying storm patterns, in life as in work. On one front sits his brooding girlfriend Emma (Isabel Pollen), on the other his whirlwind of a younger brother, Chancer (Mark Cameron), crashing at Paul’s following the death of their dad.
Crash being the key word. Nothing about Chancer comes without noise, unlike Paul, whose academic focus verges on the autistic. “Like two double pendulums,” comments sexy PhD student Zainab (Bella Heesom) of the brothers, one of several images that seems just a little too textbook. Like Paul, Chadwick sometimes wears her research rather heavily and when talk turns emotional, her characters can fall into cliche.
Director Donnacadh O'Briain uses the Theatre 503 space cleverly though, drawing in the audience with the help of a noddingly ironic soundtrack and a more-than-usually helpful stage manager (Harriet Stewart). And Healy, in particular, hits some poignant notes amid the light relief of Chancer’s self-proclaimed cabaret act. “This isn’t maths. This is truth,” he says to Paul at one point. It’s only a shame the play itself doesn’t ring truer.