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Proof review at Chiswick’s Tabard Theatre – ‘strong performances, but rarely hits full speed’

Julia Papp and Tim Hardy in Proof. Photo: Camilla Greenwell Julia Papp and Tim Hardy in Proof. Photo: Camilla Greenwell

From the start of David Auburn’s much-lauded (Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning) Proof, genius and madness tussle for prominence. The lifelong search for mathematical proofs by renowned mathematician Robert (Tim Hardy), has led him to both.

His daughter Catherine, at the centre of this family-drama, wonders into which she will fall. Can she prove to herself (and others) that she is either?

“Crazy people don’t sit around wondering if they’re nuts,” quips her father.

Catherine – played with a growing but sometimes jolty assurance by Julia Papp – spends most of the time wondering exactly that. She has inherited her father’s mathematical mind, but is haunted by the knowledge that despite being celebrated as a genius, he did his best work in his 20s before suffering from increasingly severe mental illness.

Sebastien Blanc’s production teases out each character’s difficulty to accept that genius can be lost, or that it can be surpassed. Catherine struggles throughout with her father, his ex-student (the gawkishly charming Kim Hardy), her sister and herself – each with something to prove.

It is not hard to see how Auburn’s fizzy script picked up every award going when it opened in New York in 2000, or that it attracted a big screen adaptation starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Anthony Hopkins. Its quick dialogue is peppered with jokes, but plunges into moments of desperate vulnerability without missing a beat.

Here though, the pace rarely hits full speed and is often bumpy, despite some strong performances – Mary-Ann Cafferkey is scene-stealing as the estranged sister, whose big city snobbishness is totally out of step with the family she left behind.

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Auburn’s award-winning text carries this production, which at times hits the mark but sometimes feels miscalculated