true story in question is that of Evariste Galois, a French
mathematician born at the start of the 19th century whose
work was important in the development of various branches of abstract
algebra. A troubled young man, Galois was killed in a duel at the age
of 20, his contribution to mathematics remaining unrecognised until
over a decade after his death.
show's initial set up, in which actors Jon Foster and Lucy Ellinson
step into character as Galois and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange,
is full of promise. Writers Lorne Campbell and Sandy Grierson
(Campbell also directed the show) throw out idea after idea –
questions of political philosophy, maths and theatrical convention
are all chucked up in the air with apparently little concern for
where they will fall. It is ramshackle and funny and the audience
interaction is successful in drawing us into this strange piece.
Garance Marneur's set within a set within a set is a brilliant
physicalisation of the central mathematical concept of the play.
At the point at which Campbell and Grierson begin to try to pull the different strings of the show together, however, Tenet fails to convince. The connections between Galois' story and Assange's are flagged up but not fully enough explored to justify the activist's presence. The reenactment of his extradiction hearing is one of the more powerfully theatrical moments in the piece, and Ellinson gives a nuanced performance, but aside from this scene, Assange is essentially just a narrator.
The maths in the piece is also problematic. While a play like A Disappearing Number befuddles your brain but while doing so fills you with wonder about the incredible complexity of the universe, Tenet merely befuddles. This is partly deliberate, one suspects: knowledge is power and the fact that we do not understand these complex concepts underlines the way in which a figure like Assange has been able to use his extraordinary intelligence to his advantage. But befuddlement can be taken too far, as it is here, making the play so hard to follow that at points dramatic tension is lost altogether.
plenty to like about this playful riff on the
troubled relationship between truth and meaning, but ultimately
there's something about Tenet that
just doesn't add up.