Proof tells the story of Catherine, a young woman coping with the loss of her father Robert, once a brilliant mathematician who revolutionised his field before suffering a mental breakdown in the later years of his life. Catherine, who was nearly permanently engaged with caring for her father, must cope not only with her grief, but also with the interference of one of her father's former students, Hal, who discovers groundbreaking, unpublished work among Robert's old papers. Catherine claims to have written the work, but Hal and Catherine's older sister Claire need some convincing.
If the subject matter seems a little daunting, fear not. Proof is blissfully light on mathematical detail, with author David Auburn almost entirely avoiding references to maths beyond a laboured gag about a band composed of mathematicians who play a song called imaginary numbers. Yup, you guessed it, they just stand silently on stage. Besides that, Auburn has written a play that is equal parts heartwarming and breaking and much more human than its premise might suggest.
Some of the performers of the Arkle Theatre Company, however, don't do justice to the material they are working with. Rob Mackean, playing Robert, is the exception: despite his occasionally grating, Billy Crystal aping accent, Mackean moves effortlessly through the gears of his multifaceted role, an encouraging father one moment and a frustrated genius the next. Mackean's presence on stage, unfortunately limited to a few flashbacks, even elevates those around him, with Jen McGregor, playing Catherine, radiating a genuine warmth in her few scenes they share. It's a warmth she is unable to summon in scenes opposite Andy Nicholls, playing romantic interest Hal, though Nicholls does their chances of developing any chemistry few favours with his caricaturish enthusiasm and wildly inconsistent New York – or is it Chicago? – accent.
More than any of the performances, this show is let down by some curious choices on the production side. Half of the stage goes unused from nearly the very first moment of the opening scene, while what little of the stage is used is dimly lit. A cicada sound effect blares out of stage speakers for a full 25 minutes of the show to indicate that we are outside and these same speakers play music to highlight emotionally significant moments with soap opera levels of subtlety. David Auburn's Proof is a play well worth seeing, but this isn't the way to see it.