A fluorescent cube scorches The Pit, with white T-shirts and socks made stark against the gloom. In the electric hubbub, a single figure emerges. He – X – moves against an audible tingling – the sound of metal had it been trapped under a wall of water. Tracing shapes in the air, his limbs function repetitively, until a woman – Y – interrupts his reverie. She is weighed down by a blanched satchel and other pearly props, one hand free to carve a passage into his three-dimensional dwelling.
Created as part of the Barbican’s Life Rewired Season, I is a strange loop is the third instalment in a triptych of events curated by mathematician Marcus du Sautoy. Influenced by Douglas Hofstadter’s book Gödel, Esher, Bach, this two-hander grapples with artifice and reality as a means of navigating the conscious brain. The pair speak in algebra, with dizzying formulas spilling from their lips as they measure their bizarre circumstances. Y (played by Victoria Gould) presents X (du Sautoy) with various objects found on her travels. “Identify!” He squeals, shuffling like a crab. “Quantify! Multiply!”.
An orange is met with trepidation at first, but soon X’s curiosity overcomes him, and he crams the sweet flesh into his mouth. Taste buds exploding, du Sautoy’s face waxes and wanes as the sugar hits his bloodstream. “Again!” He cries, “Again!”. This kind of sensory experience is new to his character. With the arrival of Y, he is forced to learn an unfamiliar language and digest information enough to plunder his every belief-system. Together, the human calculators are all but forced to undertake verbal reasoning as they attempt to find their way out of a seemingly infinite series of rooms – an exercise littered with dry humour and performed with childlike playfulness.
I is a strange loop passes clever comment on the state of mortality and this – blended with an examination of performativity – is both enchanting and destabilizing. However, a faux-conclusion changes the energy of the piece. Self-referential dialogue and metatheatrical humour continue to add layers to the drama. Shakespeare too, is cited in its relatability – sonnets of somethings and nothings, poor players and walking shadows. What lacks is a sense of risk, and it is only so long before the onstage antics begin to grate.
Overall, the action makes for curious spectatorship. This story-telling machine crunches numbers with impressive attention to detail (the mathematical precision is extraordinary), but unfortunately, the final result doesn’t add up.
I is a strange loop played at The Pit at the Barbican until 23 March. For more information, visit the Barbican website.