The Nominal Space

BATS Theatre, Wellington

14/02/2008 - 17/02/2008

NZ Fringe Festival 2008

Production Details

Ever had a mathematical orgasm? 

The Nominal Space is a new New Zealand work exploring the satisfaction and sexuality in mathematics.

The Nominal Space is based on Townshend’s previous solo piece, A Little Bit Strange, which was inspired by his time as computer programmer. "There was a satisfaction which is hard to describe whenever I solved a ridiculously difficult problem. I want to share that satisfaction with an audience."

Thomas LaHood from Theatreview said: "A Little Bit Strange is an immaculately structured and executed work, one of the standouts of the season, its taut psychological feel relieved by its dry humour and curious physicality. Townshend gives his themes of anticipation, infinity and death real body and texture."  

The Nominal Space goes a step further, letting mathematics satisfy you.

But it’s more than just sex. There’s a beauty and simplicity in mathematical solutions, a perfection you cannot find in this world." 

This is Townshend’s debut performance since graduating from Toi Whakaari in 2007. The Nominal Space cracks open maths, sex, and satisfaction, promising to be gripping and well… unexpected.

Feb 14-17th, 9:30pm
BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Tce
Tickets: $15 waged, $12 unwaged, $10 Fringe card
Book at BATS: 802 4175 or   

Stage Manager/ Graphic Designer/ Production Assistant: Natasha Falconer

30 mins

Stays in your mind

Review by Lynn Freeman 06th Mar 2008

You need your wits about you for The Nominal Space by Stephen Townshend (writer/actor).  He keeps you guessing, and involved, right until the last scene in a short work structured with mathematical precision. 

His computer science degree has come in handy here.  It’s curious, baffling, unnerving and acted with the same evident care as it’s scripted.  We enter three parallel universes, the theory being every decision we make creates one.  In this case it involves opening, or closing, a door. It stays in your mind, as good plays should.


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It’s up to us to believe

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 18th Feb 2008

The Nominal Space is yet another 2007 Toi Whakaari ‘Solo’ exercise that has been revised (from 20 minutes long to 30) for a wider audience at Bats.

Roman (he deals with numbers and computers) relaxes with a glass of red wine and runs over the events of the day. He does this three times except each time he does so there are differences. Which one is real?


He keeps singing "it wouldn’t be make believe if you believed in me." He argues with his boss and a friend moves unannounced into his house though he does give his friends keys in case they come to town and want somewhere to crash. He has Jekyll-and-Hyde-like moments and he makes it clear he hates pepperoni, all the while his friend, whom he doesn’t confront, is in the kitchen.


It’s up to us, the audience, to believe in the make believe and where Stephen Townsend scores in his stylish performance is that we do care for Roman and through the fragments of the variations of his day we glimpse and believe, if not fully understand, his predicament.


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Too inaccessible

Review by Melody Nixon 17th Feb 2008

Stephen Townshend, who played the beguiling Septimus Hodge in Toi Whakaari’s graduate production of Arcadia last year, is the probing pen, person and performer of The Nominal Space. Townshend explores a stirring and effective range of facial expressions and bodily movements as he jolts through the repeating stories of Nominal Space, drawing on mathematics and mood swings to chart the uncharted – that vague and exciting area between potential futures.

As with many Fringe shows, it is wonderful to see the way Townshend takes control of the space – both nominal and theatrical – and is unashamedly and challengingly obscure. His dark creature character, with twisting wrists and lips, is a beautiful and poignant embodiment of that space – an almost science fiction-like take on what might exist between possible realities. Townshend maintains tension and some emotion – particularly anger – throughout the exploration, but risks leaving viewers confused and a little unable to connect emotionally with what are interesting metaphysical ideas.

The salient aspect of this adventurous show is its running time – thirty minutes. While the sudden ending is neat and appropriately timed, the brief glimpse of anguish and multiple realities the play affords as a whole does not allow much room for viewers to enter the space of the play, the actor, or the script. Rather than stimulate the imagination and inspire insight, as perhaps The Nominal Space intends, it proves too inaccessible to pull this reviewer in.

Originally published in The Lumière Reader.



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Objective absurdity no barrier to subjective recognition

Review by John Smythe 15th Feb 2008

As a computer programmer the ‘real’ world and your own life within it can become quite warped when you constantly encrypt its content, apply programming logic to all possibilities, use algorithms to solve the problem of which decision to make …

This appears to be what afflicts Roman (Stephen Townshend) as, suavely supine on an armchair and sipping a passable red, he takes us through something of a ‘Groundhog Day’ in his life. But which version is real? Or are all three? Have we simply been taken back through different portals of consciousness?

The Nominal Space (developed from A Little Bit Strange, Towshend’s Toi Whakaari Go Solo offering last year) is a ‘make what you like of it’ piece that could be compromised if I spelt out my interpretation. Suffice to say it amounts to a matter of life and death.

The key to making it work is trust. As we wrestle with the flips and twists that intersect the constants – the decisions made which create these parallel universes – we have to believe the ‘problem’ confronting us is solvable. Hence the crooning throughout of ‘Paper Moon’, which "wouldn’t be make believe if you believed in me" (a statement which, on reflection, is utter nonsense, since ‘make believe’ does mean belief is achieved – doesn’t it?).

Although telling a story in the past tense, let alone repeated large tracts of it, is essentially undramatic, Townshend does hold our interest as Roman’s introspective smile gives way to bursts of strange behaviour and his descriptions of recent events become increasingly bizarre. And at half an hour it is entitled to tantalise us with intriguing ingredients we would want to see more resolved in a longer form version.

Roman’s fascination with numbers, connections and variables is clear enough. Likewise his drunken moments of self-refection in a pub lavatory, his loathing of pepperoni, his distrust of his boss’s appreciation of his genius, the fact that he lives in a house with stairs and he has given keys to friends from out of town to stop them driving home drunk … And a woman called Lydia. These, it seems, are the constants. As is his being knocked unconscious …

As for the variables … The trouble is, if you make a decision that sends you off in a wrong direction, how do you cross over into another reality when they are all running in parallel?

Like all good magic realist stories, the objective absurdity of The Nominal Space is no barrier to our recognising subjective realities of human experience.  


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