Thursday, 29 November 2018

REVIEW: Proof at the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester

Proof. That’s all any of us search for as humans. Affirmation. We seek to be validated for our own successes, to prove, in our own personal way, that our own position in society is absolute; and in order to survive we provide proof that we are worthy. However, what happens when your proof gets questioned by the ones who mean the most to you?

David Auburn’s 2001 Pulitzer Prize winning play sees Catherine; the daughter of this generation’s most celebrated mathematician, come to terms with the loss of her father, and the fear she might be succumbing to the same early onset dementia that took him from her; whilst also dealing with her sister Claire flying in from New York to help the post-mortem dust settle and the sudden increased presence at the family home of Hal; her fathers ex student. However, soon enough Catherine’s sanity is started to be questioned by those around her, and her claims of mathematical discovery are challenged as by products of her own mental instability and deemed as her father’s intellectual property and not her own. Through the fractured narrative of flash back, present day and within Catherine’s mind, Auburn takes you on a twisted journey chartering the genial exploration of Catherine’s own sense of self worth, whilst not only questioning how she can prove herself as a mathematician (whilst standing in the shadows of a great,) but also prove her own sanity. 

Under Joesph Houston’s smooth and cohesive direction the cast flourish. Knowing the space like the back of his hand Houston has created a small, simple and effective environment for the action to naturally unfold. He weaves a fine balance of breathe and frenetic tension together to create a palpable atmosphere for the four actors to really come into their own. 

David Keller’s Robert is a wonder. Keller is beautifully poised and incredibly engaging as the mathematical scholar whose dry wit musters a good few laughs, but he excels in breaking your heart as he balances the switches between lucidity and senility. His student Hal, portrayed by Samuel Holland expertly encapsulates the young excitable, and knowledge hungry math geek. The chemistry that forms between him and Dixon as Catherine is organic and endearing. However, it’s where few people succeed that Holland truly excels, in the moments where he speaks without even saying anything, he has an innate knack to observe and react in an honest and engaging way. The comic timing of Angela Costello as Claire needs to be applauded, her ability to break a moment from sorrow into comedy is wonderfully crafted. This more than likely comes from her pin point portrayal of Claire, the slightly more uptight and controlling
sister who got out of the family home, her dramatic changes are smooth and powerful, as is the slight nuanced undertone of her possible resentment that her father and Catherine had been so close. It is Lucy Jane Dixon’s Catherine, the glue that holds all the characters together, that is the unfaltering master class in ‘Proof’. Her central performance is staggeringly nuanced and intelligently delivered, a maturity of epic proportions covering an entire canvas of emotions. Her moments of serenity and breathe can be balled over by obsessive mania in an instant, but all crafted so deftly that her relationships with each character are clear in their complexity. Her constant need to be believed and trusted as sane is harrowing and until the last instant it feels like it has been eating away at her the whole time, decaying similar to Frankie Gerrard’s rustic and gorgeous wooden house set that seems to dissolve into the rafters of the theatre. Joseph Thomas and Dan Pyke’s sound and light subtlety and beautifully enhance the emotional arc of the piece, allowing the narrative timeline to be clearly depicted. 

This is an exceptionally strong production of a play that personally I feel, never fully takes off. It has it’s moments of brilliance but ultimately, for me at least, Auburn’s play at times is as hard to decipher as the mathematical problems its characters are trying to so desperately to solve. However, what I am sure of is that if this is what Joseph Houston has to offer as his directorial debut, I predict he’s on track for a very long and successful career.

Review by Ben Hipkiss

Rating: ★★★★

Running: Till 2nd December, The Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester

Ticket Price: £16
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