Mathematics is a tricky subject. This is especially true of the theatre: there just aren’t that many good plays about the art of numbers, or algebra, or geometry, or, for that matter, proofs. David Auburn’s Pulitzer winning piece breaks that record though; my every impression was of a superb and moving play, every inch of it brought to life by a near flawless cast and production team.
Much of the play’s strength is down to its small cast; Jared Fortune is superb as Robert, the mathematics professor who descends into lunacy – unusually for a student production, the age of the character is played fantastically well. Fortune comes across as very much the firm but caring father, a characterisation that that becomes increasingly emotional as we see him lose his grip on reality. Millie Chapman, as Robert’s daughter Catherine, is equally accomplished. The play opens after her father’s death, and watching her haunted by visions of her father, following him towards madness, desperately trying to reconstruct his work.
Set on the back porch of a house near the University of Chicago, this is a play very much tied to its place – the script drips with Americanisms, and the cast have each perfected (to my ear at least) an Illinois accent, which goes a long way towards the immersive experience on off. The set is just as impressive as the actors; the fully reconstructed back wall of a suburban house, the wooden porch and the unkempt garden make for a stunning sense of place: you can genuinely watch this play and forget where you are.
Don’t let the mathematical theme of the play put you off going; though there is the obligatory joke about the ‘imaginary number’ the band plays, the debates over mathematics are only the backdrop to a simply incredible play about trust, love and dealing with loss, brilliantly realised by a stellar cast. A must see.