It is a rare playwright who has the balls to tell a story about brilliant minds that dazzle with their grasp of abstraction. It is rarer still to find one that draws out the story of a woman mathematician like a finely tuned, but high strung, violin.
Unlike Good Will Hunting and A Beautiful Mind, the Hollywood film Proof, based on David Auburn’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, dares to enter the inner world of a troubled young woman, grappling with the implications of having inherited her father’s genius with numbers, along with his crippling psychosis.
David Hutchinson’s fringe adaptation of the play begins with Catherine trying to come to terms with her father’s death. She has spent the last years of her father Robert’s life caring for him, and giving him a sliver of sanity in his bewildering existence in which he has lost the ability to come up with world-changing mathematical ideas.
The action centres around a patio, surrounded by synthetic turf, that becomes the symbol first of Robert’s worsening psychosis and his fragile hold on reality, and later Catherine’s grieving and her attempts to cope with her own prickly inability to let people in to her inner world.
Into Catherine’s life comes her high-flying executive sister Claire from New York, and an awkward, bumbling Hugh Grant-type character Hal, her father’s doctoral student and a devotee of his work, whose mission in life is to study his mentor’s 103 notebooks. As Catherine starts a tentative relationship with Hal, who is secretly in love with her, Claire attempts to draw her younger sister back with her to New York, to compensate for the guilt she feels in leaving her alone to cope with their ailing father.
Amy Burke, as Claire, is the epitome of the controlling older sister, in turns protective and envious of Catherine’s volatility and towering talent, and self-conscious of her own flawless but prosaic existence as a Currency Analyst. Hilarious scenes between the two sisters give a lightness of touch to the production which deals with such heavy matters.
Dan Cohen, as Hal, brings to life the geeky mathematician drummer who has come to terms with his own lack of genius, and who spends his evenings with his rock band playing ‘i’ – a three-minute silent number, a maths in-joke that signifies nothingness. Hal, despite his love for Catherine, must come to terms with accepting her talent.
Marcus Taylor, as Robert, shows us the tragedy of a mind that knows its own insanity. Holly Easterbrook’s interpretation of Catherine, however, leaves her a petulant teenager, with an improbable American accent, and it is difficult not to compare with Gwyneth Paltrow’s acutely sensitive portrayal of strength and fragility, and consciousness of an underlying depression, in the film.
David Hutchinson effectively uses a minimalist set to direct the action, facilitated by a compelling original sound score by David Ben Shannon, impeccable set direction, and the convincing use of two or three props.
Proof is running until May 29 at:
189 Greenwich High Road
Box Office: 020 8858 9256
Image by Robert Gooch