Proof by David Auburn, currently showing at The Theatre Royal in Bath is a fascinating and compelling play. Set on the back porch of a house in Chicago, it unfolds scene by scene, showing a jigsaw puzzle of mind pieces which seem to show the fragility of genius but also gradually fit together to take us through a variety of emotions and relationships.
The play opens with Catherine, beautifully played with such intensity by Mariah Gale, sleeping on the back porch. It is the early hours of the morning and her twenty-fifth birthday. She is awakened by her Father – Robert, a Professor of Mathematics, strongly played by Matthew Marsh, who has brought her a bottle of champagne to celebrate. Catherine has sacrificed a very promising career in mathematics to take care of her father who has been suffering from bouts of insanity for the last few years, but who now appears to be recovered. As the play unfolds we realize that Robert is actually dead, and it is his ghost that Catherine is talking to.
We are then introduced to Hal, wonderfully played by with immense energy by Jamie Parker. Hal is one of Robert’s former students and has arrived to go through Robert’s papers in the hope of finding a mathematical breakthrough. Hal and Catherine go from an acrimonious start to form a close relationship. Completing the cast, is Claire, Catherine’s sister (Emma Cunniffe) who arrives from New York for their Father’s funeral. She is very concerned about Catherine’s mental health and wants to take her back to live in New York so that she can take care of her. But does Catherine really want to go?
Throughout the play we become aware of the fine line between sanity and insanity. Auburn tells the story out of sequence criss-crossing between past and present. He also seems to draw out the strong link between mathematics and madness and we are left wondering whether as well as Robert’s mathematical genius Catherine has also inherited his madness.
The play is so well directed by Polly Findlay. She seems to let the characters develop themselves with only a light guiding hand here and there. The set, designed by Helen Goddard is impressive – simple but very workable, and wonderfully enhanced by the clever lighting of Paul Anderson which depicts the different times of day and the different seasons of the year with some beautiful effects.
This is a very watchable, but also a very thought provoking play which I’m sure will leave you thinking seriously about the question posed – creativity and mental illness – fact or fiction?