Daniel Whitley, Director of Oxford Theatre Guild, talks about new show Proof being staged at the Mathematical Institute

With a passion for theatre and a talent for mathematics, I have long been fascinated by Proof, the play by David Auburn that won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Having the opportunity to direct it in the Mathematical Institute seemed, therefore, too good an opportunity to pass up.

Proof is ultimately a story about fractured relationships, between parent and child, clashing siblings and unlikely couples. Contextually, it is deeply rooted in mathematics, mental instability and mistrust.

The setting is Chicago, 2000. We meet Catherine, a young and naturally introverted mathematics student who dropped out of her studies to care for her father Robert, a world renowned mathematician, during his decline through mental illness. After his death, his ex-student, Hal, discovers a ground-breaking proof in a locked drawer of Robert’s desk.

It is thought the writing of Proof was partly inspired by the solving of Fermat’s Last Theorem in the 1990s by British mathematician Andrew Wiles; there are certainly similarities between Catherine and him in the tendency of mathematical geniuses to succeed in solving century-old problems by isolating themselves. Developing the characters has been one of the most rewarding aspects in bringing this play to life.

Being able to perform in the impressive surroundings of the new Mathematical Institute in the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter has added a further layer to our staging.

We decided not to hide the building and are deliberately using lecture rooms and mathematically inspired glass domes as entrances and lighting positions. Proof that the play really would work in such an unconventional theatrical space came on the day I had my first meeting at the Mathematical Institute and discovered its real name is the “Andrew Wiles Building”, the very same Andrew Wiles who solved Fermat’s Last Theorem and provided the inspiration for Proof. So I am delighted that, in one distinct sense, we are bringing the play home.

October 20-24. www.oxfordplayhouse.com/ticketsoxford/