Directed by Derek Walker
542 King Street, Newtown
Season: 13 – 30 July
It can be confronting to see yourself reflected in your parents – both the good and the bad. Parents can seem like the ultimate indicator of what we could end up like in the future, and sometimes we don’t like what we see. David Auburn’s play Proof explores these aspects of family life, as well as the crippling and invalidating way mental illness is treated and perceived. The play is gripping and complex, with lots of meaty goodness for the performers to sink their teeth into. Walker’s production saliently expresses the emphasis we tend to place on ‘genius’, the tragedy when people fall from the heights they once stood, and the greater tragedy of never reaching the heights one was capable of standing.
We meet Catherine as the clock ticks over midnight and she celebrates her 24th birthday with a glass of champagne with her father. Robert, her father, is a renowned mathematician – but we soon find out he actually died some days ago. Before that, he had been losing his mind for some time, and Catherine had been caring for him during his last few years of life. Catherine’s sister Claire soon returns from New York for their father’s funeral. Hal, a student of mathematics, is going through the mass of gibberish papers left by Robert in the house, to try and decipher some last skerricks of genius. Some crucial discoveries are made.
Jeremy Allen’s set design is a streamlined aesthetic, most pleasing to the eye. Significantly, I believe it augments some of the theatrical meaning of the production. We see the continual contrasting of extremities – the stifling heat inside the house, as opposed to the bitter cold outside. The appearance of flourishing life (shown by the blooming greenery on the front porch) and yet it is heavily constrained and limited (hemmed in by glass walls). Catherine and her father’s lives are lived either in the realm of formidable brilliance, or crumbling sanity. The production elements tied in with Walker’s directorial vision subtly tell a powerful tale, seen more clearly by witnessing the actor’s performances.
The play is engaging throughout its rally of naturalistic arguments and exchanges between characters. However I craved from the actors an additional braveness to be even more playful in the scenes, in order to achieve a sense of spontaneity for the audience. This is the cherry on the top of a scene that has been well directed, rehearsed and explored – in order to make an audience member lean in, desperately intrigued by the proceedings on stage for some unexplainable reason. This is what any actor is striving for, I’d imagine, and is definitely a tough ask to wholly meet.
In saying that, the cast is still very strong. Ylaria Rogers plays Catherine with a good degree of subtlety, depicting her depression with complexity. Julia Christensen’s performance as Claire wonderfully captures her good intentions, and yet her completely invalidating approach to Catherine’s mental health. Both Rogers and Christensen are impressive presences on stage. Alex Brown well epitomises the idealism and hubris that can consume a budding student. Peter Flett plays Robert, and the scene that stood out to me was between Flett and Rogers, when Robert convinces Catherine to read his proof aloud to him. Without spoiling the play, the scene took me by surprise with utterly devastating results. It got me hooked.
Proof is Freefall Productions’ very first production. They should be commended for diving headfirst into an odious artistic climate for independent work. It’s brave! I hope to see more of their productions in the future, where the artists push themselves to fully embody the company’s namesake in their performance. It’s a leap of faith, but I think that sort of risk taking in theatre is absolutely worth it.