I is a Strange Loop/X & Y


A new mathematical play written and performed by Marcus du Sautoy and Victoria Gould, directed by Dermot Keaney and presented by Complicite.


Alone in a cube that glows in the darkness, X is content with his infinite universe and abstract thought. But then Y appears, insisting they interact, exposing him to her sensory and physical existence. Each begins to hanker after what the other has until a remarkable thing happens … involving a strange loop.

I is a Strange Loop tackles some of the biggest questions facing humanity. What is the limit of AI? Can consciousness be downloaded? What is the shape of the universe? Is it finite or infinite? Does it have an edge? Marcus du Sautoy and Victoria Gould use mathematics and the theatre to navigate the known and unknown reaches of our world. Through a series of surreal episodes, x and y, trapped in a world they don’t understand and confronted for the first time with another human being, tackle some of the biggest philosophical and scientific questions on the books: where did the universe come from, does time have an end, is there something on the other side, do we have free will, can we ever prove anything about our universe for sure or is there always room for another surprise?

I is a Strange Loop (formerly known as X&Y) was part of the Barbican’s Life Rewired Series and sold out 4 performances at the Pit Theatre in March 2019.

It was previously performed at Latitude Festival July 2012, The Science Museum, London, October 2013, Manchester Science Festival, MOSI November 2013, Hay Festival May 2014, Astrolabe Theatre, Glastonbury Festival June 2014, Vaults Festival, London February 2016, Oxford Playhouse, April 2016, Canterbury Festival, November 2016, Mumbai Literary Festival, Tata Theatre and Prithvi Theatre, November 2017, CCCB Thinking Bienalle Open City, Barcelona October 2018.

Financial Times review: ‘a neat little show about maths, consciousness and artificial intelligence. Their droll two-hander, directed by Dermot Keaney, playfully uses drama to tackle abstract ideas and explore the way AI might become conscious. Performed with an easy good humour by the pair, it’s an engaging piece that allows laypeople a glimpse into artificial intelligence and what it might tell us about our own consciousness. It draws cleverly, too, on theatrical convention to open up ideas. it is a likeable, ambitious and stimulating piece.’

Simon McBurney, Founder of Complicite: ‘I is a strange loop’ is a play that plays… with ideas, concepts, abstractions and relationships that are, usually, hidden from the sight of ordinary mortals, articulating the ineffable, incarnating the incorporeal, revealing the inconceivable… it makes us feel we know a great deal more than we do…. and is also very funny, utterly compelling and marvellously human.’

From British Theatre Guide, Rachel Nouchi: ‘I is a strange loop captures vividly the push and pull between physicality and the abstract world of numbers in a flow of mathematical speak rubbing up alongside a debate on the consciousness of life, death and mortality. A lot to digest in 100 minutes, especially if you are neither maths whiz nor science geek, but when the abstract and physical worlds clash in the form of two actors floating about in white Grecian garb posing as X and Y, the effects are funny, illuminating and often baffling. Tonight’s piece, part of a triptych created for the Barbican’s Life Rewired season, tackles what it means to be human at a time when advances in technology and scientific research are hurtling forward with unprecedented speed.’

A Younger Theatre, Josephine Balfour-Oattes: ‘this two-hander grapples with artifice and reality as a means of navigating the conscious brain. The pair speak in algebra, with dizzying formulas spilling from their lips as they measure their bizarre circumstances. I is a strange loop passes clever comment on the state of mortality and this – blended with an examination of performativity – is both enchanting and destabilizing.’