This is an extended version of the review that appeared in The Border Mail Saturday 24 March 2012
Faith and logic lock in battle
In the opening scene of HotHouse Theatre’s first offering of its 2012 season, Fractions, we witness Hypatia (Jolene Anderson), cutting through scrolls. We later learn she has made heartbreaking decisions about what she needs to save from the collection of the more than one hundred thousand that form the Library of Alexandria, Egypt left in her care after her father dies.
But Hypatia is no demure librarian; she is a mathematician, teacher, philosopher and astronomer whose refusal to convert to Christianity not only frustrates the elders of the now open church, but puts her life in danger and ultimately leads to her death.
She has her supporters: her protector, Rika, (Eugene Gilfedder) who fondly calls her Mathematika; and Orestes, (Hugh Parker) the magistrate who finds himself often in an untenable situation and attempts more than most to have Hypatia look beyond her logical world of maths. Her detractors include her ultimate destroyer, Kyril (Jason Klarwein) while torn between his love for Hypatia and his devotion to the church is Synesius (Lucas Stibbard). Stibbard also plays Simon, a Jewish scholar who assists Hypatia in saving the scrolls and who witnesses her gruesome death.
From the outset, we can see there will be no compromise between Hypatia and Kyril; each of them is solid in their conviction. Anderson’s body language as she holds herself tight throughout the production perfectly projects Hyaptia’s rigidity and Klarwein has the menacing presence of a man of power. It is only at the end we see the internal vulnerability of each of them.
At times the production has a cinematic quality with the use of flashbacks, including a crucial scene between Hypatia, the tiler (Gilfedder) and his son (Klarwein) where the extent and consequences of Hyaptia’s naiveté are revealed, but the Butter Factory Theatre also offers an intimacy that adds to the play’s powerful nature.
Seven and a half thousand scrolls that dominate the set serve as a constant reminder of the store of knowledge at risk of being lost, while the destruction of a telescope capable of bringing new knowledge speaks of the fear of the unknown.
In the space of just over two and a half hours award winning playwright, Marcel Dorney, transports us back 1600 years but the themes of knowledge as power, fanaticism, misunderstanding, misogyny, superstition, religion and love reflect the world as it is now.
Rika provides some welcome humour amid the intensity, but in the play’s final moments is left in to hint at the world of darkness that will remain when knowledge disappears.
This HotHouse Theatre and Queensland Theatre Company coproduction directed by HotHouse Artistic Director, Jon Halpin, is not an easy ask, but is well worth the intellectual and emotional investment.
Fractions continues at the Butter Factory Theatre until 31 March.
*Fractions was the winner of the Queensland Premier’s Drama AWARD 2010
For bookings contact HotHouse Theatre