Review – Proof (Arts Theatre)

Thursday 22 February 2007

Proof by David Auburn at the Arts Theatre“Is TRUTH more important than LOVE?”

Phew, the producers of this revival of Proof don’t pull any punches when it comes to employing meaningless verbiage in their marketing, do they?.

Nevertheless, Andrew was delighted when Agency Phil proposed an outing to see David Auburn’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play at the strangely soulless (despite the vintage Shirley Bassey album being played in the bar) Arts Theatre.

For Andrew’s life could easily have turned out very differently. He devours popular mathematics books such as the excellent Fermat’s Last Theorem and The Man Who Loved Only Numbers and could easily have turned out to be a mathematician had he any talent at maths.

Proof is the story of Catherine (Sally Oliver), the daughter of an American mid-western university maths professor whom she has nursed through some kind of breakdown. Now he is dead and her sister, concerned for Catherine’s own mental health, is intent in moving her to New York to be with her. In the meantime, she develops a relationship with Hal (Neal Foster), one of her father’s students.

Hal is working through her father’s last notebooks, hoping to find some hot maths among the ravings. When he does find something hot, the question becomes, “who wrote it”?

This production from the Birmingham Stage Company is charming and absorbing; the cast convince and it’s a decent enough play to warrant a revival even without the star power Gwyneth Paltrow gave it at the Donmar warehouse in 2002 and in the 2005 film version (or, for that matter, Jennifer Jason Leigh on Broadway).

Andrew felt that on balance there wasn’t enough maths in it, although he was thrilled to learn that the largest known gaussian prime number is (1+I)^(991961)-1. “H” from Steps was presumably just as excited judging by the amount of time he spent on his mobile phone in the interval.

Agency Phil enjoyed it too, but was quite worried by the end that he still couldn’t answer the question “Is TRUTH more important than LOVE?”. If it’s any consolation, Agency P, that may have been a red herring. – the taglines for the 2005 film version
were the equally vacuous but very different “The biggest risk in life is not taking one.” and “If you don’t believe in yourself, who will believe in you?”.

Anyway, Andrew is going to campaign for more maths on the stage. If your appetite is whetted, see this article on Science News Online for more on maths in drama.

Footnote: I have a truly marvellous proof of this play’s meaning which this footnote is too narrow to contain.

2 Responses to “Review – Proof (Arts Theatre)”

  1. Would be curious to ask Andrew why a “Proof” revival — so soon after the show first appeared — was necessary?

  2. Good question, Steve, but I don’t think the Whingers would class any theatre as “necessary”.

    In this case, I think (a) the play went down well in Birmingham (which is a city in the Midlands) (b) producers like to bank on a safe bet and (c) it’s only the Arts Theatre, so no-one cares much.

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