Oedipus, National Theatre: Olivier, London
A disappearing number, Barbican, London

A harrowing and fateful voyage round his father

It's more than a decade since the National staged Sophocles's great primal tragedy. The difference of approach between the two productions is stark. In 1996, Peter Hall went for broke, renewing the ancient Greek practices of mask and ritualised movement and using a translation of rhyming couplets. Jonathan Kent's new Olivier production shows what can be achieved with a style that mediates between formality and modern informality.

The chorus, for example, are citizens in contemporary suits who can turn into a male voice choir for passages of dissonant lamentation and protest. The setting of verdigrised brass is both monumental and undercutting – huge double doors mounted on a curved disc of a stage that gives the characters no flat ground. Frank McGuinness's translation is a mix of impassioned simplicity and sly, modern notes of self-conscious irreverence – as when, knowing the relief that it will bring, the Stranger from Corinth tells Oedipus that his father is "Dead and gone/ Done and dusted".

As a programme puts it, Oedipus is perhaps the one person not to suffer from the complex Freud named after him. Since hearing the fateful words of the oracle, he has done all he can to distance himself from possible parricide and incest. So is he the innocent plaything of the god? This production takes the line that the hero's fault is an overweening belief that, having solved the riddle of the Sphinx, he knows the score where knowledge is concerned. Excellent Ralph Fiennes exudes the defensive hubris of a man bent on satisfying his curiosity, even when the truth is imploding him from within. It's impossible to withhold pity, though, from the stricken figure who afterwards beseeches his terrified children to lead a life better than their father's.

The production has strength in depth. Alan Howard brings a mocking Beckettian Irish brogue to the blind seer, Tiresias. As they struggle to fend off the full horror of their position, Fiennes and Clare Higgins's superb Jocasta fall into gestures of mutual consolation that look hideously like eroticised versions of the mother-son relationship. An impressive, harrowing evening.

Conceived and directed by Britain's greatest theatre-maker, Simon McBurney, Complicité's A Disappearing Number won all last year's awards for best play. It's back at the Barbican, and even better. Finding deep metaphors in mathematics, the show interweaves stories around the real-life collaboration between the Cambridge don GH Hardy and the young, self-taught Brahmin genius, Srinivasa Ramanujan, who defied his caste and accepted Hardy's invitation to come to work with him in England at the time of the Great War.

In the production's first incarnation, this primary story – which ends with the early death of Ramanujan back in India – seemed to take second place to a complementary narrative about Al, an American futures dealer, and his wife Ruth, a mathematician besotted by Ramanujan and desperately aware of the short shelf-life of maths boffins and the inexorable ticking of the biological clock. Without at all demoting that strand, this version gives a much more involving texture and urgency to the Hardy/Ramanujan collaboration. We see them, for example, working at fever pitch trying to find a predicative formula for the way numbers "partition" or subdivide within themselves – with all the symbolic applications of that concept to other areas of life.

A miracle of multimedia poetry, the piece fervently dramatises Hardy's fundamental perception that "a mathematician, like a poet or a painter, is a maker of patterns". Complicité's great forte is for taking ideas that could seem abstract and remote and uncovering the visceral connection between them and the psychological and emotional. We witness the infinitely convergent series of numbers become an emotional metaphor for a couple anxiously wanting a child, or ponder whether nought divided by itself equals one or infinity. Essential viewing.

'Oedipus', in rep to 4 January (020-7452 3000); 'A Disappearing Number', to 1 November (020-7638 8891)

Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Arts and Entertainment
Kate Bush: 'I'm going to miss everyone so much'
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?