By Nerissa Loe (17A13A), Deborah Lee (17A01D) and Chung Sohyun (18A13A)
Photos courtesy of the Raffles Photographic Society and Raffles Players
(Warning: Spoilers Ahead)
As the curtains parted and the lights illuminated the PAC stage, the sight of the picturesque set drew a collective gasp of admiration from the audience. “Proof”, the highly anticipated production by Raffles Players, was about to begin.
Centred on the themes of family, love and Mathematics, the play revolves around the main character Catherine (Robyn Wong, 18A01B) struggling to recover from the trauma of her father Robert’s (Izzul Irfan, 17A01E) death, while coming to terms with the lost years of her life spent caring for him.
The first half of the play finds Catherine, who has inherited Robert’s flair for mathematics, constantly haunted by the fear that his dementia and gradual descent into instability would befall her as well. It does not help that the other characters in the play — her sister Claire (Wan Jia Ling, 18A01A) and her father’s ex-student Harold (Sabariesh Ilankathir, 17A13A) seem to believe that she has already turned unstable. In fact, in the last scene of Act 1, when Catherine claims to have written an important theorem (the titular Proof), their immediate reaction is one of strong, even scoffing, rejection.
The difference between past and present Catherine is stark – she transitions from a once-livelier self exposed in the flashbacks, to a guarded, emotionally vulnerable character. Despite the complexity and multiple sides of the character, Catherine was well-portrayed by Robyn, who mentioned her initial struggle with finding “coherence” in the “wide range of emotions” she had to convey throughout the play. Indeed, her self-awareness and adequate preparation pulled off as they led to great performances across both nights, even though it was her first time acting as the lead.
Izzul, the actor of Catherine’s father, stunned the crowd with his moving performance — touching the hearts of the audience as he teetered the line between passionate, fervent mathematician and broken, deteriorating father. Perhaps his most tear-jerking scene was the climactic outburst that occurred during one of Catherine’s flashbacks, in which he slowly realised that despite his desperate hopes of recovering from his illness, his condition was not improving. The emotional monologue truly shook the audience to the core.
Of course, to perform is not to just entertain, but to also learn and grow through embodying various personas and holding on to snippets of experiences. Said Izzul on his role, “I too share some of Robert’s fears — of being unable to do what I did so well in before, and I guess through Robert I got a little closure for that.”
Sabariesh learnt much from playing Harold as well, through which he was challenged to “become a much more technical actor” due to the length of this play. Additionally, the numerous kissing scenes made it necessary for him to “get out of [his] comfort zone” to “make it realistic”. Although filled with reservations, he was ultimately able to illustrate his excellence as an actor, mastering the balance between his role as comic relief and his role in providing emotional support for Catherine, as her love interest.
Jia Ling’s performance as Claire was also spectacular, capturing the essence and emotions of her character as she artfully exposed the old grudges and familial tensions that existed between Catherine and herself. Claire’s charming, charismatic nature was brought across very well, even as the character managed to infuriate the audience in every scene with her questionable motives and decisions regarding Catherine’s future.
Finally, the play would certainly not have been as outstanding without its strikingly built set. The large display of mathematical symbols and geometrically shaped lanterns stunned the audience from beginning to end. These contrasted against the domestic and realistic setting of the house – complete with quaint windows, fences, vines, and even a bicycle.
As set designer Tan Xin Hwee (17A13A) notes, the skillful blend of stylistic and domestic designs stemmed from a desire to illustrate “both abstract and realistic elements in [the] set”, which are represented by the “world of symbols and a naturalistic house respectively”. More importantly, the set was to serve an essential purpose of being a constant yet surreal reminder of the motivations behind proof — where “the stylistic fusion on a single stage [hints] at Catherine’s inability to ground herself firmly in reality.”
When asked if the cast had any final words for those who had been a part of the whole experience, Izzul replied, “To the brilliant cast: It has been an emotionally draining journey together but thank you so much for sticking by when times got tough. To the crew: Bless you all for making this possible. And finally, to the audience: Thank you being there with us for the two nights – you remind us every single moment why we love what we do.”
The play played on the idea of “Proof” on various levels; beyond the proof that Catherine’s formula holds true, Catherine constantly seeks to prove to Claire and Harold that she is not “crazy” and that she is indeed the author of the mathematical proof. In fact, the final scene, where Harold recognizes that Catherine has written the Proof and convinces her to talk to him about it, is significant as he proves to her that she can trust him again.
All in all, as captured succinctly in the title of their play, the spectacular performance was no doubt Proof of Raffles Players’ hard work coming to fruition.