“Proof” marks the second time this year where I’ve had the privilege of attending the debut performance of a brand new company and, to put it plainly, once again Melbourne has gained yet another strong platform upon which to promote and showcase groundbreaking theatre. The company, Artefact Theatre, derives its name from the idea that “powerful theatre leaves something behind with an audience, buried deep within their minds”. With “Proof”, Artefact have produced a deeply relevant, striking and moving piece of theatre that is sure to meet their goals and stay with their audience for a while yet.
The script itself by David Auburn has an incredible amount of appeal, and lends itself effortlessly to Artefact’s core philosophy. Dealing with the themes of family, loss, sacrifice, depression and ultimately survival, Proof’s greatest strength is that it quickly centres in on its characters. The show is quite cathartic in the way some of its themes are unapologetically confronting, but never dealt with in bad taste. Regardless of how serious the show sounds, make no mistake; it is very funny. Director Emily O’Brien-Brown has achieved the perfect balance of comedy and heartbreak to produce something very special indeed.
Madeleine Jevic anchors the show with her faultless portrayal of “Catherine”, a woman haunted by her father’s mental history and struggling to find purpose in her own life. Having only seen Jevic in more comedic roles in the past, it was a delight to witness her rise to tackle such a sincere and emotionally demanding role. This really is Catherine’s story, and the story of the relationships between her and the rest of the characters forms the backbone of the show’s success. Be it the tension between her and her sister, the investment she places in her father’s wellbeing or the wariness she initially exhibits for the character of Hal, the ensemble featuring Jevic and O’Brien-Brown have done an incredibly effective job in establishing unique and separate dynamics to broaden the audience’s exposure to Catherine’s layered personality.
Mark Yeates’ portrayal of Hal is similarly impressive, with his quick wit and nervous charm making him a crowd favourite from the offset. Again, the relationship established between Hal and Catherine, and the way in which it matures throughout the duration of the play, is without question one of the highlights of the piece. Roy Barker also serves up a strong performance as Robert, with one scene in particular, where has a breakdown at the realisation of the state of his mental health, extracting a strong emotional reaction from the audience. My highest praise must go to Anna Burgess and her lovably condescending performance of Catherine’s sister Claire. Burgess’ calculated pace, the strength of her expressions and the subtle sense of superiority she brings to her character makes for a number of memorable exchanges.
Special mention must go to Ashlee Blakers, whose work designing the show’s lighting did not go unnoticed. It’s not an easy job to establish the time of day on stage via lighting alone, especially when working with an immobile set. Blakers’ efforts are a testament to her ability and sharp eye, achieving the perfect contrast between the various times of day in which the show is set. Yeates, who takes on his third role as set designer, excels in yet another area of this production with a set that captures the intimacy of the piece, and transports the audience to the back porch of a crumbling house in Chicago. Opening night produced a few technical hiccups with transitions taking a little longer to kick in than usual, as well as a few sound cues slightly missing the mark – but nothing that won’t get smoothed out throughout the course of the season.
Artefact Theatre Company have produced a performance that effortlessly captures the wit, charm and emotional weight of Auburn’s script with ease, achieving their own goals of leaving something of significance with the audience to say the least. “Proof”, although dealing with an admittedly unusual scenario, is a reflection and study on the lives of real people. Once again, it is a performance that has captured my undivided attention to see where this theatre company goes next.
For more information about the show or to book tickets, you can visit their website: http://www.proofmelbourne.com