## The Mathematics in a Dramatic Text – A Disappearing Number by Complicite

##### Date

2013##### Metadata

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A Disappearing Number gives vent to Simon McBurney’s fascination with science, in this case with mathematics. The story of the mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan constituted the groundwork for the collective theatrical production whose literary “translation” was published by Oberon Books in 2007. This article investigates the ways in which the text de-automatises dramatic conventions. On the one hand, the text, as a literary record of the theatrical production, seems to be an intersemiotic translation of the “original,” which suggests its secondary, derivative character, but, on the other hand, because of its status as a dramatic text, A Disappearing Number enters the sphere of literature which is intrinsically subordinated to the powers of imagination. In this way, it is argued, Complicite associates mathematics with art (literature): these are the spheres where imagination is of the greatest importance. This is made explicitly apparent in the characters’ utterances and in various textual strategies. A Disappearing Number begins, for example, with an explanation of a mathematical concept provided by Ruth, a lecturer, in a “university lecture hall.” The explanation is followed by a strictly meta-theatrical greeting of the audience. The illusion of the stage is emphasised as much as the immutable nature of mathematical reality at this point. The function of mathematics is not restricted to the thematic dimension of the play; mathematical
principles are also decisive for the construction of the model of the world. Simultaneity of action, for instance, reflects the complicated nature of certain equations, the Great War is associated with the number of its victims, Ramanujan’s death is shown on stage through a metaphorical subtraction and the passing of the number zero, and even the title suggests some equivalence between a number and a life of a human being.

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