by David Auburn.
New Vic Theatre In rep to 4 June 2011.
9-21 May, 1-4 June 7.30pm Mat 21 May 2.15pm.
Audio-described 21 May 2.15pm.
Runs 2hr 25min One interval.
TICKETS: 01782 717962.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 15 April.
Intelligence test easily passed in the New Vic repertory programme.
If Artistic Director Theresa Heskins’ installation of repertory seasons at the New Vic had developed further, she might have dared programme Proof alongside Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia. American dramatist David Auburn’s play is shorter, smaller-scale and a lesser piece than Stoppard’s, but that doesn’t matter. Arcadia is possibly the major play of its period (1993) and there’s plenty of room for high achievement beneath its exalted level.
Besides, Auburn works aptly on a smaller scale within the similar area of mathematical proofs. And he shifts audience expectations around in making his point that in a world where ‘mathematical certainty’ commonly expresses the idea of firm truth, there’s nothing certain in higher-level mathematics.
For the majority of us who rely on two and two always adding up to four that might be surprising, but perhaps it shouldn’t be; scientists keep telling us that given something large, small or fast enough, the usual rules don’t apply.
In her mid-twenties, Catherine is asking herself about the inheritance from her late father; both mathematical and mental. Twice she’s seen with him. One time we’re led to suppose the meeting’s real, one time unreal. But appearances are deceptive; presuppositions take us down wrong paths.
So where does that leave the audience with the complex mathematical proof that might be her father’s or, given the mental state he’s found in, could be Catherine’s? Hal met her when he was her father’s (somewhat stereotypically studious) student. He returns several years later more confident and sceptical over her claims to have solved one of mathematics’ most knotty conundrums. How can she prove her authorship?
What becomes clear is that inspiration and inspired guesswork – or leaps of imagination – are as important in reaching mathematical conclusions as in the creation of artistic works.
Auburn’s success lies in making the people matter and giving a sense they know what the issue is without leaving us in the cold. Director Gwenda Hughes’ success lies in disguising the play is really too small-scale for this stage (along with the cold islands of garden in Lis Evans’ design) and the performances which keep audiences involved.
Claire: Victoria Gee.
Robert: Paul Greenwood.
Hal: Michael Hugo.
Catherine: Emma Noakes.
Director: Gwenda Hughes.
Designer: Lis Evans.
Lighting: Alexandra Stafford.
Sound: James Earls-Davis/Chloe Baxter.
Music: James Earls-Davis.
Voice coach: Mark Langley.