Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Joy division - review of Your Days Are Numbered

Your Days Are Numbered: The Maths of Death, at The Forge, Basingstoke on Thursday, February 9

ANYONE remember the early 90s when comedy was heralded as the new rock & roll? It wasn’t, of course, the new rock & roll turned out to be grunge, which made much more sense when you think about it. But 20 years on, I think it’s perfectly reasonable therefore to say that science (and maths) is the new comedy. Or, at least, that scientists (and mathematicians) are the new comedians. Yup, scientists with social skills. Who knew.

Among this breed are stand-up mathematician (or the mathemagician, as I will now call him) Matt Parker and science writer/performer Timandra Harkness who have devised a a jolly little show about the mathematics of death, investigating likely length of life and various ways it may be ended, through the wonder of statistics.

With the show set to come to New Greenham Arts in April, I am aware that I have a 99 per cent chance of giving away too much and therefore reducing potential attendance by roughly the same amount. However, I am also aware that the next phrase, while factually correct, could achieve that on its own: there were a lot of acturaries in the audience. And reference to Bayesian probability (which I just had to Google in order to spell correctly).

Don’t let that put you off, though. Really. As a mathematics numpty (AS-level predicted grade E - I didn’t bother taking the exam), I can confirm that you don’t have to be an actual actuary to enjoy the show. The concept of micromort - a unit of risk measuring a one-in-a-million chance of death - was clearly explained for us non-actural acturaries early on, making the facts that followed easier to grasp than chunking (a little joke thrown in by me for the primary school teachers among you).

I came away with the new knowledge that my plus-one is destined to meet his maker through auto-erotic asphyxiation (or suffocate in his own beard); that the likelihood of me writing a positive review increases exponentially when I am brought up onto the stage and plied with vodka; and that the stickers placed on the forehead of audience members to pronounce them dead during the 100-minute show (one minute equalling one year of life) are likely to take off approximately 50 per cent of an eyebrow when removed. None of which ever happened in a maths lesson when I was at school. I might have passed my AS-level maths if it had. Or had more fun trying.

* Assuming that Parker and Harkness survive the next two months, they will be at New Greenham Arts on April 12. While no audience members have died during a show on the tour so far; with a 0.000043 per cent chance that one could snuff it during any given performance, you can work out the risk of attending yourself.

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, February 16, 2012

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