Last updated: May 5, 2012 12:11 am

Tenet, Gate Theatre, London

Christopher Haydon’s quietly revolutionary agenda is exciting, but this play falls into the ‘noble attempt’ category

To include the full title above would have left little space for a review. Properly, it is entitled Tenet: A True Story About The Revolutionary Politics of Telling the Truth About Truth As Edited By Someone Who Is Not Julian Assange in Any Literal Sense. Creators Grierson and Lorne Campbell (who also directs) are concerned less with the titular figure than with Évariste Galois, a 19th-century revolutionary French republican and mathematician who died at the age of 20 in 1832 in an unexplained duel.

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Galois, as portrayed here, was a mercurial figure who had made a number of intuitive leaps in algebraic theory but was unable to explain his discoveries comprehensibly. Jon Foster enacts him making impassioned but hazy declarations about what we know we know and (as if it were a great cosmic law) that sometimes a particular approach to solving polynomial equations works and sometimes it doesn’t.

In contrast to the fraught subject matter, the performance style is free and easy. Lucy Ellinson serves us tea and biscuits as we enter (leading to a later pun that in 1832 there was a Bourbon on the French throne), and she and Foster enlist us to aid the storytelling by symbolising various parents, teachers, judges and juries. No performance is necessary on our part – we just sit in our places and suppose (although, on press night, Ellinson hesitated for a delicious moment before appointing Vanessa Redgrave as a juror).

Galois’ methodology involved finding roots, or “radicals”. A recurring phrase, clearly symbolic, is “the radical simplifies”. In the final phase, the focus shifts to Assange, examining his Galoisien view that questions and answers are simply different angles on the same process. This, alas, is where it becomes apparent that the play is in effect an emblem of itself: it is unable to make clear or convey the excitement of what it knows it knows, leaving us in a frustrated fog. Christopher Haydon’s quietly revolutionary agenda at the artistic helm of the Gate is exciting, but on this occasion his programming falls into the “noble attempt” category.

3 stars

www.gatetheatre.co.uk

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