As any GCSE maths student will tell you, a prime number is one that has only two factors: one and itself. Furthermore, there are an infinite number of primes that are separated by just one number, like 11 and 13, called twins. The characters in Florence Read’s play are, quite appropriately then, slightly out of step with each other: sometimes in possession of themselves but in search of their ‘one’, sometimes vice versa. It’s an interesting idea but the play’s form is frustrating and the whole experience comes off as distinctly less than the sum of its many parts.
Focus is always on what is absent from the writing rather than what is present in the production.
Twin Primes is a collection of eleven short scenes, all featuring two characters and all performed, quite capably, by Alexander Stutt and Katie Piner. Some are darkly comic – a cannibal meets a willing victim online and takes her on a date – whilst some are far more serious – a student returns to his abusive piano teacher. There is nothing wrong with these fragments in themselves except that they are, necessarily, all too brief. The result is a dramatic sketch show that isn’t as funny as a regular sketch show and says far less than a piece of drama.
Katherine Bussert directs with pace and the two actors multi-role with confidence and skill. A washing line of costume pieces is gradually emptied as the show progresses in a simple but neat visual accompaniment to the action. Yet the focus is always on what is absent from the writing rather than what is present in the production. Read has some nice scenes here but simply putting them together and expecting that to say something profound about humanity is bizarre. When her characters are good you want far more than she gives you; when they’re not so good you want them to go away, fast.
Every non-prime number can be made by multiplying primes together. If the prime characters displayed here are similarly instrumental in building up humanity, then we should be very worried indeed.