Review: Proof by David Auburn, at the Menier Chocolate Factory

Jamie Parker as Hal and Mariah Gale as Catherine. Photo: Alastair Muir

Jamie Parker as Hal and Mariah Gale as Catherine. Photo: Alastair Muir

Of all the popular beliefs about maths, the most striking  is that world class mathematicians do their best work by the age of 25. Is that true, or even perceived to be true, for any other field? Maths, the most cerebral  of sciences, requires high speeds, recklessness and energy that often cannibalises the mind and the physical world. Science for the adrenaline junkies.

David Auburn’s play Proof captures the ferocious energy and emotional turbulence of its subject matter. Three people, at different stages of their life, obsess with maths and feed off each others’ energy, ideas and emotions. The three ages of the mathematician, none of them complacent, all of them fascinating to watch.

Polly Findlay directs the production with the confidence the power of the play affords. There is no need for fireworks, the focus is on emotional precision.

Mariah Gale’s Catherine expresses anger, grief and betrayal through measured tiny movements of the mouth. When happy, everything about her lights up. Her ability to access pure but complicated emotions is  a joy to watch. Jamie Parker’s Hal has the graceful charm of a grounded but very intelligent man. His good intentions go hand in hand with a well sharpened wit. He and Gale have an easily relateable chemistry.

Matthew Marsh’s Robert tightropes between this world and another. His performance has an interesting edge, a slightly strange emotional pitch, that is both believable and disturbing. Emma Cunniffe’s Claire, the ultimate outsider, is level headed with the obstinacy and certainty of someone who knows the world. Even so, she avoids stereotypes and brings a conflicted sisterly love into the mix.

The set, the backyard of an old dilapidated house, looks weather beaten both from time, but also emotions. The whole production has the feel of immense care, from the tiny glimpse of the kitchen to the nice sound design vividly bringing to life a party we can’t see.

At the small Menier space, all these elements come together for a gripping intimate transporting production. I once said I like plays revolving around exact sciences and thankfully Proof doesn’t break the spell.

P.S. This is the first time I noticed a “continuity” error in the theatre : in earlier scenes Jamie Parker’s Hal was wearing a wedding ring that disappeared half way through the play. For a while adultery looked part of the mix, but alas no. It was just the actor who forgot to take out his wedding ring while getting into costume. Not that I am complaining, it only made the experience more interesting.

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