Into the Numbers
Reviewed – 4th January 2018
“the play explores with sophistication philosophical arguments about the human psyche and behaviour”
Genocide, suicide and depression, feature heavily within Into The Numbers, making this a night of difficult yet powerful viewing. It’s certainly not for those who like their theatre brimming with light-hearted fluffiness. Making its European debut, Into The Numbers commemorates the 80th anniversary of the Nanking Massacre in China, whilst coinciding with the Finborough Arms’ 150th anniversary year. As the title and anniversaries suggest, numerical figures are a key feature to this harrowing play, which explores the toll it has on one person who carries the burden of acknowledging hundreds of thousands of deaths.
In the December of 1937, Nanking, the capital of China at the time, suffered one of the worst genocides of the 20th century, perpetuated by the hands of the Japanese army. Around 300,000 Chinese civilians and soldiers were raped, tortured and murdered in the most brutal and barbaric manner imaginable. Flash forward to 2004, American author and journalist Iris Chang, who won critical acclaim for her book The Rape of Nanking, which brought the Chinese atrocity back into public recognition, committed suicide at the age of just 36.
Into The Numbers begins in the form of an authentic lecture and interview with Iris Chang (played by Elizabeth Chan), but soon spirals into a chaotic cacophony between real life and the surreal, as ghosts of the Nanking Massacre begin to haunt Iris. Deeply disturbed yet devoted to her research, the psychological effects of investigating genocide prove to be a fatal one for Iris, as the horrors she unearthed help prompt her gradual mental breakdown and ultimately, her tragic death.
Written by multi-award winning American playwright Christopher Chen, the play explores with sophistication philosophical arguments about the human psyche and behaviour. Particularly, how the incessant images of terror that saturate the media effects us, as well as, whether our fascination with blood and brutality is part of our human makeup.
As mentally and emotionally draining as it is to sit through, it is refreshing to see a production that is so intellectually stimulating. Elizabeth Chan gives a wonderfully nuanced performance as Iris, slowly deteriorating into a frenzied state, succumbing to her existential nightmares. Timothy Knightley equally gives a notable turn, multi-roling between playing Iris’ husband, doctor and interviewer. Unfortunately scene changes at times feel clunky and abrupt, due to these two actors hardly leaving the stage, and Knightley having to awkwardly jump from one character to the next in the blink of an eye. However, this is only a marginal grumble for a play that is enlightening and leaves you overwhelmed by the gumption Iris Chang possessed in her fight for recognition of the Nanking Massacre.
Reviewed by Phoebe Cole
Photography by Scott Rylander
Into the Numbers
Finborough Theatre until 27th January