Updated: Wednesday, 15th July 2020 @ 4:12pm

Review: Proof @ Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester

Review: Proof @ Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester

| By Sam France

Some creative directorial choices and a versatile cast make for an intriguing production of a slightly flawed play in the Hope Mill Theatre’s in-house production of David Auburn’s Proof.

A tight cast of four more than ably present the story of Catherine (Lucy Jane Dixon – Waterloo Road, Hollyoaks), a troubled maths genius who struggles to view herself outside the context of her father (David Keller), a world-renowned mathematician who was torn apart by mental illness.

The set is wonderfully put together, a minimalist house with walls which seem to dissipate as they rise, perhaps representing the degradation of father Robert’s mind, and supported by a foundation layer of maths books.

Catherine is frequently difficult to like but likeability isn’t her aim.

Dixon is at her best at the beginning of the second act, manic enough on stage to have the audience genuinely questioning her mental state when at first it isn’t obvious why other characters don’t believe her.

Her interactions with her father move between touching and troubling as his mental illness ebbs up and down, while her uncomfortable relationship with successful older sister Clare (Angela Costello) makes for entertaining viewing.

As a student of Robert and an acquaintance-turned-lover of Catherine, the quintessentially geeky rock ‘n’ roll-playing mathematician Hal (Samuel Holland) does a fine job of pulling the various threads of the play together.

When he comes between two other characters, whether that be Catherine and Robert or Catherine and Clare, the stage chemistry of the actors is at its best and the dialogue flows most naturally.

There are times when interactions go on longer than they might and the first act is a little slow, but then a play about maths, mental illness, and the tainted nature of genius deserves a measured approach.

The play won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play but it was not without its critics at the time and it can be seen why.

Catherine’s line “What, you want to test the handwriting?” is perhaps emblematic of her growing paranoia but it also presents a logical solution to the central conflict, that one might expect one of the three highly intelligent characters on state to give some consideration.

But the flaws of the original play are offset by Joseph Houston’s directorial imagination.

Foreboding whispers and droning crescendos accompany blinding lights and the surprisingly haunting presence of mathematical equations occasionally projected onto the house.

The light and sound used to cut between flashback and the present near the beginning of the second act is flawlessly executed, and highly impressive to watch.

Whatever problems the production does have are generally problems with the original play rather than this interpretation; save some occasionally flaky Chicago accents, it is compelling and interesting watching. The ending is a little abrupt, but you are left wanting more – proof that the talented cast has you fully invested by the end.

*Proof is showing at Hope Mill Theatre until Sunday, December 2. You can buy tickets HERE.