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Sally Oliver, playing Catherine, and Terence Booth, who plays Robert, share a scene in "Proof." The American play is making another showing on London's West End through March 17 at the Arts Theatre London.
Sally Oliver, playing Catherine, and Terence Booth, who plays Robert, share a scene in "Proof." The American play is making another showing on London's West End through March 17 at the Arts Theatre London. (Photo Courtesy of the Birmingham Stage Company)

LONDON — Credit must be given to any actress bold enough to follow in the footsteps of Gwyneth Paltrow, who brought to life the role of Catherine in the West End production and Hollywood version of “Proof.”

But in taking on the role in the Birmingham Stage Company production, Sally Oliver delivers a strong, understated performance of a young woman struggling to come to terms with her inherited brilliance as well as her capacity for insanity.

But the lead performances of Oliver’s Catherine and Terence Booth’s Robert — who share the majority of the stage time — are eclipsed by the supporting roles of the eager doctoral student Hal, played by Neal Foster, and the pushy, but ultimately compassionate, sister Claire, played by Aislinn Sands.

Foster shines in the role of Hal, who works to impress the aging mathematical genius Robert and romantically woo Catherine, Robert’s daughter, who is initially standoffish. Sands has the fewest lines, but she steals the show with her passionate performance as a headstrong woman determined to steer her sister from madness.

The play, published by David Auburn in 2000 and awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2001, is set in contemporary Chicago. The action focuses on the relationship between Catherine, a bright but reclusive caregiver, and her father, Robert, a cantankerous mathematics professor who oscillates unpredictably between concerned father and detached madman.

When Robert dies, Claire enters the fray from her successful job in the New York financial industry to help tie up the family’s loose ends, which includes selling the family’s home. She also wants to force Catherine to moving to the Big Apple.

Against this chaotic backdrop, Hal discovers an alarmingly brilliant mathematical proof among Robert’s personal papers that Catherine credits as her own. At first unconvinced, Hal checks the proof with both the “old geeks” and the “young geeks” before he realizes the pioneering proof must, in fact, be Catherine’s work.

But the Northwestern University sophomore realizes that in accepting credit for the proof, she also acknowledges inheriting her father’s genius and possibly his mental illness.

Viewers should be warned, however, that the Birmingham Stage Company took tremendous liberties with the play, shuffling the scenes into a Quentin Tarantino-esque play on continuity that may leave some a tad confused.

And, more importantly, punctuality is of the highest order, as any ticketholder even a minute late will not be allowed to enter until intermission.

In short, plan ahead for the inevitable London traffic and Underground delays that could sour an otherwise pleasurable trip to the always electric West End district.

Getting there

Location: Arts Theatre London, 6/7 Great Newport Street, West End, London.

Great Newport Street lies between Charing Cross Road and Upper St. Martins Lane. Nearest Underground station is Leicester Square.

Phone: 0870 060 1742.

Web site:www.artstheatrelondon.com.

The play has six showings a week through March 17.

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