It can’t be easy being a mathematician: all that emphasis on proof, so little on faith. It’s a flaw David Auburn’s Pulitzer-winning 2000 play, adeptly directed by Polly Findlay, touches on, but also suffers from. We may wonder who wrote the amazing paradigm-shifting proof about prime numbers that is discovered at the end of act one but Auburn seems not to realise that we don’t actually need to know. Life’s full of uncertainty: if it weren’t, there’d be better maths but no drama.
Mariah Gale is Catherine, 25 today and newly bereaved. Her father, Robert, was a mathematical genius whose mind crumbled: a particularly cruel fate, surely, for someone gifted at delineating the architecture of the world. Catherine has his talent – but how much of it? And what else has she inherited?
Gwyneth Paltrow played Catherine in the 2005 film version, superbly; she was also not straitjacketed by the American accent. Gale, smile plastered across a mind in turmoil, is. More natural are Emma Cunniffe as Catherine’s big sister and Jamie Parker as scruffy, vulnerable Harold, interested both in his teacher Robert’s surviving work and in his younger daughter.
‘Proof’ lacks a real sense of tragedy, or of beauty – why try to understand the world, unless you love it?– but it holds our interest. There’s humour (mostly at mathematicians’ expense) and then there’s our wish to know: who Catherine really is, what will become of her. We all hanker after certainty, but only mathematicians and fools believe it exists. Nina Caplan