Mathemagician: A Monodrama in Five Acts

Tuesday, 7 September, 2010

Edinburgh 10 – Acoustic Music Centre @ St Brides – 21-22 August­­ 2010 – 22.45 (1:15)

Mathemagician: A Monodrama in Five Acts is an occasionally baffling mix of poetry, prose, music and dance used to illustrate a journey through a dream-like world of war and political machinations.  Written by journalist, translator, playwrite and children’s author Dr Gowri Ramnarayan it is a full-on assault on the senses, filled with the intrigue of long-dead nations and, at its heart, a great romance left unfulfilled.

The Mathemagician of the title is Nikor, a numerical master who lived in around 500BC and ultimately became the Persian Empire’s chief economist.  As he waits for a visit from the Persian Emperor he tells the story of how he achieved such a lofty rank.

Born to a Babylonian noble man, Nikor started life as weak child hated by his domineering siblings.  His only friend and confidant is a shy girl called Salla who lived in the neighbouring mansion and their fledgling love affair is shattered when Nikor’s family collude to have him castrated and sold into slavery.  But the slave’s talent with numbers is soon uncovered and the young eunuch quickly becomes apprentice to Plautus, the Babylonian chief economist.  Swiftly rising through the ranks he achieves huge wealth and fame as the country’s chief mathematician, account general and keeper of the state seals.  A chance meeting with the now-married Salla rekindles old passions but, once again, the pair’s happiness is thwarted, this time when the Persian Army invades and lays siege to Babylon.  When Plautus vanishes, Nikor takes on his role and tells his Queen about the severity of likely food shortages.  With this minor calculation he becomes an accomplice to a brutal suicide cult designed to keep the rich and powerful alive at the expense of the poor and weak – including, he fears, his beloved Salla.  Unable to live with his part in the massacre Nikor switches sides and is welcomed into the bosom of a Persian society keen to take advantage of his talents.  His betrayal leads to Babylon being destroyed, with many of his countrymen and family slaughtered.  As he watches his city burn he thinks of nothing but the further power and riches which are to be showered upon him by his new Persian overlords.  Settled into his new, near-regal, position a message from his forgotten former master Plautus ultimately forces him to look back on his life and see the man he has become.

Wielding a bewildering array of theatrical weaponry, Vasudev Menon powers through the performance with confidence and obvious emotion.  Whether pining after his beloved, fearing the wrath of his political superiors or succumbing to treachory, he communicates the characters’ feelings with great depth, often using just a single well-chosen glance from wide kohl-rimmed eyes.  His balletic movements throughout add an extra layer of characterisation and make every line or rhyme seem pregnant with meaning.  A basic set of a chaise longue, table and basket is ingeniously used, along with a smattering of props, to convey a sense of place and time.  Traditional Indian music adds to the Eastern promise and is utilised to effectively demonstrate new scenes, chapters and characters.

The plot, however, is so confusing that the storyline is often forced to take a back-seat to the sheer spectacle of what is happening on stage.  This means that the eventual unravelling of Nikors’ entire belief-system does not feel as dramatic as it could, with too much in the way of extraneous material and superfluous artistic flotsam getting in the way of what is undoubtedly a riveting yarn.

Cast Credits: Vasudev Menon – Nikor. 

Company Credits:  Story and monologue – Doctor Gowri Ramnarayan. Music design – Doctor Gowri Ramnarayan.  Lighting design – Gordon Hughes.  Sound – Chandra Mouli.  Music and Vocals – Kannan and Renju.  Dramatization – Vasudev Menon and Rosie Paveley.  Co-ordination and Stage Management – Sajeev Pillai and Vaishnavi Sundararajan.  Produced By – The Holy Cow Performing Arts Group.

(c) David Hepburn 2010

Reviewed Saturday 21 August

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