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San Francisco Fringe 2016

A Mathematician at Play

Greg Tobo, Astonishing Productions

Genre: Solo Performance

Venue: Exit Theatre


Low Down

“Everything that surrounds us will someday fade into oblivion. But take cheer, mathematics will endure forever! Presenting a show about mathematicians and their obsession with numbers, featuring uncanny feats of lightning calculation and super-mental demonstrations.”


At the start of his show, Greg Tobo says he’s a recreational mathematician and introduces us to mathematics in different cultures. This may sound like a dry lecture format, but stop right there because Tobo is a cool dude in a suit and bow tie! He’s fun and full of numbers that spill out rapidly as he moves through several sequences with panache and flair.

He is part mathematician and part magician – handing out a few calculators for the audience to work along with him to prove he’s correct. He uses a whiteboard and an old fashioned blackboard to illustrate each intrigue offering multiple ways of presenting what he’s doing and the impressive outcome. This interactive style or performing along with the numerical feats he achieves is a wonderful way to discover the wonders of number manipulation, the Babylonians, even the shapes of numbers through topology!

Tobo uses a few other small pops such as a thin rope while telling anecdotes and stories. He speaks with irony, dry wit and humor, always enthusiastic and everything he does can not fail to be fascinating – I wish he had been my mathematics teacher! Building suspense he announces what’s about to happen is very dangerous – it turns out dimensions are something to really think about before switching.

One or two volunteers were pleased to be invited to help and Tobo gives them clear directions so we know what to look out for. He was correct every single time, whether doing illusions or complex calculations in his head. He also offered useful advice and ways to get stuff for free, then went about proving it financially. Tobo is sincere, fun, funny and brilliant! He’s a joy to watch for an hour and he certainly leaves us wanting more.

Now on to probability! Well this was a fascinating topic and one that seemed confusing when studying mathematics in high school, however, Tobo immediately tells an anecdote, illustrates concepts with small props, visual aids, a pack of cards. His final flourish of this section is nothing short of astonishing!

Tobo’s “math stunts” or “party tricks” as he refers to what he does, build consistently. He’s like a friend sharing his skills and encouraging us to enjoy it all as much as he does. His final party trick is tremendous. It would spoil it all for any reader who has not yet seen this show, so it is not possible to explain what happens, but trust me that the mathematical gymnastics Greg Tobo does in his head are exceptional.

Hopefully as many people as possible can see this show, because you not only understand more about numbers, their background and how to manipulate them somewhat, but you also feel more educated when you come out, which is wonderful!  If he is performing in a theatre or classroom near you – go see, you will not be disappointed!