wed 29/05/2024

Proof, Menier Chocolate Factory | reviews, news & interviews

Proof, Menier Chocolate Factory

Proof, Menier Chocolate Factory

Revival of onetime Donmar entry proves there is life after Gwyneth

Father knows best? Mariah Gale and Matthew Marsh do their maths in David Auburn revivalNobby Clark

Mathematicians are a breed apart, bandying numbers about in a way that few outside their magic circle can fully understand. David Auburn's Pulitzer Prize-winning play uses this exclusiveness to investigate the complex relationship between a father and daughter.

Robert, a brilliant academic whose ground-breaking research inspired a generation of devoted students before he became mentally ill, has recently died. His daughter Catherine (Mariah Gale, pictured below right with Matthew Marsh as Robert), now 25, has spent years caring for him in their dilapidated Chicago home, curtailing her own university career to do so. She knows that she has inherited something of her father's mental ability; she fears she may also have inherited his mental instability. When Hal, one of Robert's last postgraduate students and now himself an ambitious academic, searches among his mentor's nonsense-filled notebooks for any overlooked ideas, Catherine reveals a sensationally original proof which she claims to be her own work.

Mariah Gale and Matthew Marsh in ProofThe "proof" of the title also refers to Catherine's need to persuade Hal and her financial analyst sister Claire, who threatens to whisk her to New York and possible treatment, that she is capable of such original thought. More importantly, she must prove to herself that she is her own person, not a female version of her father, inevitably following where he has led.

When it was first staged in London, at the Donmar in 2002, Proof provided Gwyneth Paltrow with the opportunity to show that she could act on stage. A film duly followed. Gale, Charleson Award winner and experienced in Shakespeare (Ophelia to David Tennant's Hamlet) and Chekhov (Olga in Three Sisters at the Young Vic) is already widely respected for her stage work. Here she turns in a stunning performance: contrary and funny as a child when she jumps on her garden swing in mid-conversation, convincingly quick and intelligent, ironic and acerbic, with tears of grief and confusion always just below the surface.

Jamie Parker's geeky but attractive and charming Hal (who plays in a band of mathematicians for whom three minutes' silence entitled "Imaginary Number" is a hilarious joke) provides a perfect foil. (Parker and Gale are pictured below.) They are ably supported by Matthew Marsh as sad Robert and Emma Cunniffe as practical Claire.

Jamie Parker and Mariah Gale in ProofAuburn's play could seem too clever by half, merely a collection of ideas - heredity, the place of women in science, whether there is a relationship between genius and instability - but director Polly Findlay and her cast imbue it with welcome, well-observed humanity. For instance, a scene in which, in flashback, Catherine gently covers her father with her jacket against the cold is followed by one in which Claire treats her sister with exactly the same humouring gesture but out of bossiness rather than sympathy.

Helen Goddard's grimy porch-and-decking set makes the most of the Menier's limited space and suggests neglected love as well as a particular location.

This is a fresh, funny and touching revival, putting the emphasis where it should be, on the interplay between the characters; the nature of the mathematical proof is secondary. Catherine has to prove ownership of her life and her future as much as of her calculation.

Mariah Gale turns in a stunning performance: convincingly quick and intelligent, ironic and acerbic


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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