can learn a lot about Greyscale's new show at the Gate from its
subtitle. That's partly because it's extremely long. But it's also
because A True Story About the Revolutionary Politics of
Telling the Truth About Truth by Someone Who is Not Julian Assange in
Any Literal Sense flags up the meta-theatricality and
semiotic trickery that are central to the workings of the play. It
doesn't tell you everything. It doesn't prepare you for the fact
that you'll be given a cup of tea and a biscuit as you enter the
theatre for instance – that's crucial too.
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.
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.
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.