Last night turned out to be a pleasant change from reviewing London fringe and West End shows, with a visit to Aylesbury’s Limelight Theatre, which is part of the Queen’s Park Arts Centre.
The original Broadway production of David Auburn’s Proof won the Tony Award for Best New Play ten years ago, and tells of Catherine, who is struggling to come out of her mathematician father’s shadow at the same time as worrying that she may have inherited the mental illness that plagued him for years.
Although the play is set in Chicago, director Nikita Strange wisely has the three actors who play the central family retain their English accents, so they can concentrate on the tensions and the humour that come with familial bonds. It does on occasion mean that the slightest difference in idiom sounds wrong, but it brings more benefits than problems.
Lyvia Nabarro conveys the essential qualities that Catherine must have – brittle, distrusting, warm when needed, all the time fighting her own inner demons. It’s a great performance that gives every other actor something to play against, and make their own performances all the better.
And it’s as Catherine’s older sister Claire that Lauren Garnham gives the standout performance. As the sibling who moved away years before and so never had to care for her father through his darkest years, she walks the highwire between aloofness and quirky humour that helps the play zip along, always balancing the darkest scenes with a vein of wit.
Similarly strong is Jamie Hughes as Hal, Catherine’s father’s former pupil who is attempting to sort out his papers. As Catherine veers from distrust of him, to friendship, to betrayal and beyond, he maintains the sort of sweet innocence we are asked to believe Catherine sees in him. And yet, he has enough of a roughness to him that when Catherine doubts his actions, we as an audience feel wrong-footed and unsure as to who to believe.
The simple set works effectively, portraying the exterior of Catherine’s house in stark black and white (save for what looks like a hastily added door frame in pine, which rather ruins the look). If this production were running for a longer period, I’m sure that the overlong gaps between scenes would be addressed and sharpened up, as they did interrupt the narrative flow a little too much. When this show’s entire run lasts for less than a London fringe show’s preview period, I guess there’s not enough time to iron those annoying little kinks.
What this production does provide, though, is a thought-provoking, immersive piece of drama that looks at Catherine’s quest for proof – whether of the mathematical kind, provenance of the work she claims to be hers and not her father’s, or just that she’s not falling into mental illness – and leaves us enthralled from start to finish.