By Sara Forgarty Olmos
Number Theory is a fifty-minute-long interaction between Evelyn (Helena Baker), a highly-strung maths student, and Stella (Hatty Tagart), the personification of her anxiety. Number Theory had a handful of strong elements. Evelyn is at her most likeable when she enthuses about maths, which Baker portrays convincingly. Tagart delivers a charismatic performance that is entertaining and well executed, if slightly incongruous to her character.
Usherwood’s writing has moments of brilliance, my personal favourite being when Evelyn tells Stella ‘you’re the things I’m really proud of,’ as well as the things that she doesn’t like about herself. However, the nuance expressed in this line seemed to be lacking throughout the rest of the play. This lack of nuance is one of a few things that didn’t seem to work in Number Theory. To begin with Stella seems to be strongly opposed to Evelyn calling her ‘Generalized Anxiety Disorder,’ which I can understand, Stella seems too bubbly and happy-go-lucky to be an accurate representation of anxiety.
In general, I thought that the decision to personify anxiety in the way Usherwood does seems a bit on the nose and generally doesn’t seem to have the intended effect. I think the concept might have worked better if Usherwood had written a character who embodies some of the traits of anxiety without being a direct personification of anxiety. Personifying anxiety is a good idea but it did seem that Usherwood was spoon-feeding the audience.
It was difficult to sympathise with Evelyn, particularly when she complains about her ex-boyfriend. Evelyn’s line ‘I’m not normal, I’m better than normal’ encapsulates the narcissistic nature of the character.
Altogether, despite its flaws Number Theory marks Usherwood as a writer with potential – one that I, and am sure many others that saw the performance, are excited to see develop.
Image: Alice Aucott