The Coliseum's latest offering is David Auburn's Proof, which had a very successful run on Broadway where it won quite a collection of awards including the Tony for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It became a star vehicle on Broadway and also when it opened in London, and is now being made into a film starring Anthony Hopkins and Gwyneth Paltrow.
As other critics have already remarked, the play does invite some comparisons with both Arthur Miller and Michael Frayn. Like Miller, the play tries to use a story of a family breaking apart to comment on wider issues, and like some of Frayn's plays and novels, the play focuses on a debate over a technical issue, in this case mathematics. However Auburn does not have Miller's skill at drawing in the big issues, and where Frayn's technical issues are woven into the fabric of his stories, it seems that Auburn has deliberately written around anything that would cause him to have to research the subject at the heart of his play. Also, the flashbacks do not always seem to sit entirely comfortably within the play. Despite some flaws, however, this is an interesting and thoughtful play that contains some good writing. As this is only Auburn's second full-length play, it will be interesting to watch what he produces in the future.
Robin Herford has directed a good production of this play for the Coliseum containing some excellent performances. There seems to be a lot of unnecessary movement towards the beginning, which may indicate the actor's or director's discomfort with the very static nature of the play, but it soon settles down and becomes more natural. Emma Pike is excellent in the central role of Catherine, the daughter of the late, great mathematician with a great deal of mathematical ability of her own. As Catherine's New Yorker sister Claire, Fiona Battisby has created a frustratingly irritating but very real and human character. Mark McCallum is also very good as the young mathematician Hal, a disciple of Catherine's father and love interest for Catherine. The father at the centre of the story only makes the occasional appearance, but is given a warm portrayal by Paul Webster.
The whole play is set on the back porch and garden of a house in rural Chicago, which looks perfect in Michael Holt's impressive set design. The play is nicely lit by Phil Davies and there are some very nice atmospheric sound effects from sound designer Dan Ogden.
The Coliseum has done well to get hold of the regional UK premiere of a play with such an impressive pedigree, and its production certainly does the play justice. While not a great play, Proof is entertaining, enjoyable and thoughtful and the Coliseum's production is worth seeing.
"Proof" runs until 29th October 2005
Reviewer: David Chadderton