Proof

September 25, 2015 | By | 1 Reply More

★★★☆☆     Elegant theory

The St Brides Centre: Tue 22 – Fri 25 Sept 2015

There’s a marvellous sense of realism to Blackout Production’s first foray into straight theatre, with a short run of David Auburn’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Proof at St Brides to Friday.

Auburn’s unlikely but very clever mix of complex maths, hot geek dates and mental health issues makes for a production which can easily steer itself, but which also carries a sore temptation to overplay things.

James Dixon as Robert. Photo Moray Nairn

James Dixon as Robert. Photo Moray Nairn

This is not a problem for Blackout under NIck Hayes clear direction.  He ensures that all the strands have their own internal coherence and carry equal weight as they tangle and trip each other up – as if each was vying to be the motivating force of the play.

A pair of strong and intriguing performances lie at the root of the production’s success.

Gabrielle Pavone-Clark is particularly strong in the role of Catherine, the 25 year-old daughter of maths genius Robert. She has spent the last five years nursing her father through a mental breakdown having given up her own mathematical training to help him.

His death both liberates and challenges her. Without him she is free to follow her own course, but Pavone-Clark creates a woman who, after years of being a full-time carer, has difficulty in working out what her own needs are. And in the trauma of his death, her own nightmare that she could share his condition seems all the more possible.

James Dickson is equally well-observed as Robert, when the play skips back in time to reveal him in more – and less – lucid moments. Without any fuss, but strong presence and physical control, he shows the debilitating effect which loss of control and the onset of paranoia and delusion can have.

sparking the interest

It’s in the pair’s relationship that most is revealed, with Auburn’s dialogue sparking the interest as he explores the different levels and areas their relationship covers at different times.

Yet it is in Catherine’s relationships with the other two characters that the real clues to her personality are explored most deeply.

Steven Smyth as Hal. Photo Moray Nairn

Steven Smyth as Hal. Photo Moray Nairn

Steven Smyth plays Hal, a former PHD student of Robert’s. He is looking through the dozens of notebooks his former mentor created in his final years, to make sure that nothing of importance is lost. Smyth and Pavone-Clark create a wonderful sense of naivety as their relationship reaches that point where a kiss is inevitable.

If Smith doesn’t always feel quite as comfortable as he might in the role, notably in the opening scene where he doesn’t seem able to change gear, he develops Hal over different time frames, creating a gauche student intruding on his mentor’s home life and also an excited professor in his own right, when a crucial discovery is made in Robert’s old study.

But the greatest key to Catherine’s personality is found in Pavone-Clark’s reaction to her older sister, Claire, played by Lesley Ward. Ward provides just the right amount of needle and annoying assumption, so that Catherine’s sarcasms and rolling-eyed reactions feel as natural as breathing.

In those assumptions, Claire is a much more dangerous person than she seems, and while Ward delivers her lines well enough, she never quite gets the pace which is needed to make the bicker between sisters carry the punch it should.

dynamic

If there is great realism here that, when it works, brings its own dynamic to the flow of the production, there are other places where the structure of the production itself should force the pace of the naturalism. And it is these moments of revelation that Nick Hayes doesn’t quite get the pace as it might be.

Lesley Ward as Claire. Photo Moray Nairn

Lesley Ward as Claire. Photo Moray Nairn

The proof of the title is a multifaceted thing. Most obviously it lies in the provenance in the discovery made in Robert’s study. But it also touches on the nature of mental illness, and where the distinction lies between natural reactions to extreme life events and underlying mental health issues.

And, in a way that carries the whole production forward, it lies in the nature of human relationships. When the demand for proof negates and destroys all declarations of trust and love.

A fascinating play given a strong and involving production that is particularly apposite just before the start of the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival, which will run from 10 to 31 August.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes with one interval.
St Brides Community Centre, 10 Orwell Terrace, Edinburgh, EH11 2DZ
Tuesday 22 – Friday 25 September 2015
Daily: 7.30pm
Tickets £10.00 from blackoutproductions@live.co.uk
Blackout Productions on twitter: @ablackoutprod
Event facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1476938399287194/Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival: http://www.mhfestival.com/

ENDS

 

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