Review: The Limit, VAULT Festival

The Limit is a hugely impressive new musical from Freya Smith and Jack Williams at the VAULT Festival

“One spark is all you need”

Ooh, a real treat this. The world of new musical theatre can be a little unforgiving but on the evidence of The Limit, Freya Smith and Jack Williams’ Bottle Cap Theatre are marking themselves as ones to watch out for. Their musical celebrates the unsung life and unheralded achievements of French mathematician Sophie Germain and it does so with real spirit and success.

The DNA of shows like Hamilton and Six are certainly palpable here, in a refreshingly contemporary approach to its historical subject and to be frank, these are fantastic influences to be drawing from. It instantly imbues the relationships and happenings with a relatability that speaks just as much truth (if not more) than any rendition of ‘historical accuracy’ could hope for.

Living in 18th century Paris, the expectations for Germain were clearly set out as a young woman of society. But far more fascinated by her father’s library than following the rules, she found ways of feeding her own intellect. Nicola Bernardelle plays her with a real warmth and hunger that makes her fight one you can’t help but root for.

And having the freedom to play early scenes for comedy rather than dusty authenticity, her battles with her mother over hoop skirts and disastrous matchmaking are perfectly pitched – Rachel Delooze and George Naylor both sparking so well off of her charming forthrightness. Jamal Franklin also impresses as Poisson, Germain’s colleague with his own agenda.

There are serious points here too. The pernicious attitudes to female education, the potential that has long been wasted, society’s slowness to recognise those whose legacies have been neglected (the Eiffel Tower snub calls to mind Rosalind Franklin’s own for the Nobel Prize). But while taking this seriously, the writing also wears it lightly, never forgetting to entertain.

Alfie Taylor-Gaunt’s nifty pieces of choreography are fun but it is the score that is constantly engaging and enlightening. The percussion rolls (Tim Harvey) and bass lines (James Pugliese) are particularly delicious in the song I’m calling ‘How A Woman Works’ and all huddled together to the side of the stage, there’s a great feeling of a proper band just having a jamming session. 

So definitely recommended, even if the mere mention of prime numbers and equations still brings me out in a cold sweat – maths is hard people! And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we’re not hearing much more about this show and these writers in the near future.

Running time: 1 hour (without interval)
The Limit is booking at the VAULT Festival until 10th March

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