Is the weight of longing faster than the speed of light? The Theatre Guild Student Society poses this question and more in a formula-defying adaptation of Suzie Miller’s The Mathematics of Longing (Supplied: Theatre Guild Student Society)

By Anisha Pillarisetty | @nishkinsilk

The Mathematics of Longing spans lifetimes and universes, deconstructing human longing through the metaphysical implications of scientific theory. There is an earnest stillness in the crowd as they settle into seats surrounding the semi-circular stage. Blackboard walls stained with chalk loom above us, flanking either side of the sunken pit. The play opens with a reading about the speed of light being unable to reach infinity.

The vignettes that follow are intertwined with varying descriptions of mathematical theories, but the performance is anything but didactic. The first vignette introduces the audience to Siena Noble as The Playwright. In an animated performance, Noble discusses the circular nature of playwriting with her partner, The Physicist. The actors’ self-aware execution of dialogue in this scene is a nod to the way the play circles back on itself.  In a key moment in the following vignette, Noble threads the mathematics of light seamlessly into a heart-wrenching scene of loss.

In their second scene, the ensemble cast ricochet words off each other, foreshadowing the unravelling of the lead cast’s relationships. The mounting tension is pronounced by the soundtrack of a heartbeat, dimmed lighting and minimal props. In contrast, bright lighting is used to herald a pivotal moment at the end, where Lily, played by Veronika Wlodarczyk, tells Adam, played by Oswin Kwan, about longing for something that isn’t there. Despite the heavy sub-text, Wlodarczyk’s and Kwan’s performances provide well-executed comic relief.

Director Matt Monti’s staging is commendable. Their striking use of the height and depth of the stage is highlighted when the ensemble tear pages from a book while Connor Duncan narrates a parable. The compelling performance draws attention to the script’s metatextual elements.

For all its grand themes, it is the understated moments in The Mathematics of Longing, much like the dark matter and dark energy we cannot see, that are the most impactful. The pauses, the looking away, and the silences shared by the main cast propel the script, unsettling the binaries of death and infinity, order and chaos.

The fluidity of the script is emphasised as all performers orbit around each other and the stage, making the nonlinearity of the narrative barely noticeable. Although the script gestures to the liminal, with the play beginning and ending with characters pointing offstage to the white line above the horizon and between the sky, the choreography veers more towards explicitly describing central concepts.

Despite this, as the chalk equations on the walls build, so does the sub-text – only to be dusted away before the next show. Towards the end, an ensemble member writes E = mc2 and slips away without explanation, alluding to the first scene where we are first introduced to this theory. The moment could easily go unnoticed, yet it comes closest to evoking the elusive concept of longing.

If you missed The Mathematics of Longing, the University of Adelaide Theatre Guild Student Society hold regular productions at Little Theatre, playing a crucial role in developing amateur and professional theatre in Adelaide. You can find out more about the Theatre Guild on their Facebook page