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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Prime of her life

In his introduction to the first ofthese articles, the estimable editor ofThe Actuary described me as a manabout-town. I can endure the sobriquetwith which he has chosen tohead this column but I am less sureabout the former. Man-about-townimplies debonair; David Niven;smoky night-clubs; blondes on eacharm; champagne each breakfast; araffish, devil-may-care approach tolife; and a mortality loading. Gentlereader, I am not this. But the seedhas been sown and my previous jottingshave focused largely on thegolden triangle delineated by theNational Theatre, the Coliseum, andthe Royal Opera House. It is time toexplore further and to boldly gowhere I have never gone before.A few hundred metres from theRoyal Opera House lies the DonmarWarehouse. This has a more rakishsound to it. Isn’t this more careless,more showy, more sensational?Wasn’t this where Nicole Kidmanwas found déshabillée in The BlueRoom? Isn’t this the seat of SamMendes whose first film, AmericanBeauty, caused such a storm? Well,yes! Fortified by Antonio Carluccioat the Neal Street Restaurant, andarmed with a couple of professors inorder to add a touch of gravitas toour proceedings, we set forth.It most definitely is a warehouse.The staging is open plan with noproscenium arch and in the stalls,consisting of just three rows, intimacyis not too strong a word. Itseems to be a place for people-spotting.I saw Colin Firth across the aisle– I’m not sure if he spotted me. It’s amixed, lively audience and for tenyears or so they have experiencedoutstanding productions from theartistic direction of Mr Mendes. Theplay was called Proof which I hadearlier understood to be about amathematician and thus of closeinterest. I later discovered it to be anaward-winning Broadway play but,significantly, one of the actors wasGwyneth Paltrow. It was sold outand I was happy to be part of theoccasion.The play, by David Auburn, concernsa depressive professor ofmathematics who carried out hisbest work by the time he was 25and then lost his creative juices.After his death a paper involvingprime numbers is found in his study.It is apparently of equal importanceas, say, the proof of Fermat’s lasttheorem. The title alludes not onlyto the presence of the proof itselfbut also whether it can be provedthat this was not the work of theprofessor but of his daughter. She,played by Miss Paltrow, fears thatshe has inherited not only herfather’s mathematical genius butalso his mental instability. I foundthe play itself not immensely satisfying– perhaps I expected too muchmathematical diversion.All four players were excellent, butMiss Paltrow was in a class of herown. I can’t remember the last timeI saw such acting. She was magnetic,pulling our attention to herevery move emotionally and physically.At one point she absentlyscratched her upper arm, a gestureso simple, so familiar that I had toremind myself that she was acting –the character was itching, not MissPaltrow. She acted with every part ofher body and with great intelligence.It was an unbelievableEnglish stage debut.Space does not permit me to writeabout a play by David Lewis calledMisconceptions seen at the SalisburyPlayhouse. One of its four charactersis an actuary whose main role in theaction is as a sperm donor. I’ll avoidall the tempting puns and concludethat the profession’s awarenesscampaign is certainly working.