The subject of this musical is Sophie Germain, a French mathematician who - at the turn of the nineteenth century - battled societal expectations to succeed in an almost wholly male-dominated field. Considering that it’s largely about gender discrimination and maths, the show is tremendously entertaining, and brilliantly staged. It provides an educational but also joyously triumphant picture of Germain’s early career.
A rousing opening number involving all five of the cast introduces the themes of equality, and love of knowledge. What follows is a cleverly-constructed tale of one woman’s fight to be recognised for her discoveries, plotting both an intellectual and emotional arc that never fails to engage. The casting is both gender-blind and colour-blind, adding an interesting dimension to the story. I particularly liked that Professor Legrange, who mentored Sophie after the revelation of her gender denied her further access to formal education, is played by a woman.
The real-life story has been fictionalised to a certain extent, but that’s to be expected in a musical adaptation - and it adds more emotional significance to Sophie’s friendship with Simeon Poisson. The physicality of the performances enhances the comedy admirably, and the use creative of props creates highly original and effective representations of the mathematical theories discussed.
The songs are excellent and very stirring, especially when they convey Sophie’s passion for and wonder at the knowledge she pursues. There’s also some fantastic choreography to keep the potentially-dry subject matter dynamic and engaging. The plot is fast-paced and suspenseful, effectively conveying the obstacles Sophie faces and the sacrifices she has to make to follow her dreams. Even at the moment of her greatest achievement, we are never allowed to forget the limitations set for her. Her successes are bittersweet.
This is a superbly-written and brilliantly-performed show. It crams a huge amount of information, character development and emotion into a short running time, and presents its protagonist as a shining beacon of intellectual prowess. Maths has never been so exciting, or so vibrant.