There seems a fine line between genius and madness. Both are by nature alienating, and people who present these qualities frequently feel misunderstood or isolated. In our age of overdiagnosis and hypervigilance, mental conditions seem to be everywhere, presenting to society innumerable challenges relating to the way we manage them in daily lives. As we continue to obsessively pathologise every less than common behaviour including the display of extraordinary talents, so do our tendencies to impose conformity throughout our communities. Proof is a story about a woman’s gift in mathematical ability, and the pressures she faces from living a less than conventional life.
Sandra Bates’ direction relays the story clearly, and pays close attention to dynamics between characters. We have a good sense of who these people are, and the world in which they live is portrayed vividly. Tragic elements of the play are fleshed out particularly well, with themes of death, illness, betrayal and jealousy providing tension and gravitas. The production is however, less effective in its lighter moments, where some of the comedy can be stiff and muted. Bates’s work might not be consistently strong through every scene, but where the drama does work, things get fabulously explosive.
The four actor ensemble is tight and even. These are generous performers who have opened up to their audience and to each other. The frisson between characters is a highlight of the show, and their interchanges are thoroughly enjoyable. Michael Ross plays Robert with ardour and depth. He delves into a realism that appeals to our empathy, but also performs the character’s madness with a fiery gusto that keeps us engrossed. Lead actor Matilda Ridgway is committed and present. She has a warmth that allows us to identify readily with Catherine’s ordeal, but her emotional range requires further expansion in order to hit all the right notes required by the emotionally complex script.
David Auburn’s writing delivers a story that is intriguing and passionate. It is also deceptively simple, and only with protracted excavation can all its subtleties be brought to light in the theatre. In this new production by Ensemble Theatre, we are treated to a fascinating story, told with an authenticity and a gentleness that will resonate with anyone who has ever wondered about the insanity and ingenuity that resides in every person.