Proof, an acclaimed drama by David Auburn, explores grief, mental illness and family ties against an academic and mathematical backdrop. Catherine, daughter of a celebrated mathematician, Robert, is mourning his recent death after an undefined battle with mental illness.
Catherine struggles with the loss of her father while also trying to step out of his shadow and prove herself as a credible intellectual force in her own right. She is also fighting against her older sister Claire, who tentatively tiptoes towards moving Catherine to New York with her, fearing she might be suffering from or developing the same illness that consumed their father. And then there’s Hal, a former student of Robert’s with affections for Catherine, reading through Robert’s innumerable notebooks in the hope of finding some of his professor’s best work. It is a family drama that shows the difficulty of trying to prove oneself and find validation in the people around us or from a world that thrives on insecurity.
The set is simple: just a shabby back porch with two chairs and a leaning stack of newspapers. It is static, quietly mirroring the almost suspended state of Catherine’s life during her father’s illness and after his death. Enclosed, trapped by the deteriorating house, Catherine has abandoned her studies and academic career to care for her father, and only when his death opens the doors of possibility again does resentment begin to bubble inside her. Michael Folkard’s design, coupled with Dan Walker’s lighting design, created a soft, mellow ambience, gently lending impressions of place and season. It was this simplicity that allowed the intricate script to speak volumes.
The cast as a whole were strong, knitted together by good chemistry and command over the text, all of their performances deftly exploring all the subtle sides of their complex and multi-faceted characters.
Catherine was brought to life by Marie Ellis who balanced her character’s strength and insecurity well, and whose well-delivered sarcasm brought forward the comedy in her dialogues with Hal (Robert Purchese). Purchese too delivered a good performance as the well-meaning but flawed man, who, despite his affection for Catherine, seems unable to accept her intellectual and mathematical ability. His portrayal was at once charming and comedic, with an endearing, jittery awkwardness.
BridgettAne Goddard embodied Catherine’s glamorous, confident and successful sister Claire without ever seeming arrogant, deftly showing at once a deep love and concern for her sister, and a cold lack of understanding for her troubles and sentimentality. The tragedy of Robert’s character was brought forward by Bill Griffiths, playing a loveable and caring, if slightly eccentric, father, making the moments in which he raged against his illness all the more shocking and desolate.
In a play that could threaten to meander, Claire Lewes’ direction kept the story moving at the perfect pace, fast enough to not lose the audience, but slow enough that the emotional nuances of the script had space to breathe. Although the scene changes at times felt a little lengthy, it was overall an excellent and atmospheric production. Critically acclaimed and gracefully realised by New Venture Theatre, Proof is a play that unfolds with tenderness, sensitivity, and elegance, a play whose story and characters linger long in the mind.
Image: Miles Davies Photography.