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Review of Doubt, A Parable at Southwark Playhouse

Doubt, A Parable - Jonathan Chambers Stella Gonet - Photo Paul Nicholas Dyke
Doubt, A Parable – Jonathan Chambers Stella Gonet – Photo Paul Nicholas Dyke

In just nine scenes, and in this production, no changes of set, Doubt, A Parable takes audiences through a complex and nuanced plot. What if it’s clear that something isn’t right but it’s not possible to produce concrete evidence of wrongdoing that would stand up in a court of law? Not that Sister Aloysius (Stella Gonet) would file a lawsuit. Although she emphatically states she will stop at nothing to bring about the downfall of Father Brendan Flynn (Jonathan Chambers) for (alleged) inappropriate conduct with a student at the Roman Catholic church school of which she is principal, there’s no mention of pressing charges or getting lawyers involved.

Sister Aloysius calls in Mrs Muller (Jo Martin), the mother of one of the school’s pupils, but not the police or a private investigator, despite an unshakeable belief that abuse and mistreatment is happening on her watch. Aloysius confides in Sister James (Clare Latham) her reasons for not even getting the diocese involved, which weren’t wholly convincing to me, though she makes some interesting points about the level of actual trust there is at grassroots level in the Church’s hierarchy.

Mrs Muller’s time on stage is relatively brief but impactful. Stella Gonet puts in a consummately stellar performance as Sister Aloysius – the audience’s opinion of the character gradually shifts but some reservations about Father Flynn are still retained. To put it another way, a masterly character is played by a masterly actor. There was still, on opening night, the occasional stumble in the dialogue – these will, without doubt (if I may use such an expression) be smoothed over as the run progresses. It helps that John Patrick Shanley’s play has well-written and well-developed characters, and with only four on-stage characters, the production feels very intimate and focused. All four are seldom on stage at the same time, which means, without giving everything away, that the audience sometimes knows certain things before certain characters do.

This is such a clever play. The acerbic wit of Sister Aloysius, abrasive but with panache, became a source of comic relief in what a story that could be interpreted in several different ways, ranging from a crazed witch-hunt in all but name to a sincere desire to deal decisively with something morally dubious. Aloysius seemed, this play being set in 1964, to be ahead of her time – a generation on, a large number of sexual abuse scandals have been uncovered in various parts of the Church across the globe. But it took decades of campaigning before the news headlines came along, and the likes of Aloysius may not have lived to see the full extent and impact of their actions.

The ‘in-the- round’ (or, technically, ‘in-the- rectangle’) staging in this production isn’t perfect, with any given section of the audience watching a character’s back for moments at a time, thus missing the subtleties of their facial expressions. The stage is uncluttered, allowing the audience’s minds to concentrate on the dialogue. Occasionally, though, it’s a little too sparse: tea is served entirely through miming, for instance.

I still have no idea whether anybody in this play has done anything wrong, in the sense of a significant moral failing, which for a play of this title is just as well – a play called Doubt that clears things up really ought to be called something else. A personal and powerful play, with plenty of food for thought, it’s ninety-minute running time felt more like nineteen.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

John Patrick Shanley’s masterpiece is one of the most acclaimed plays in recent memory. Winning 4 Tony Awards including Best Play, named Best Play by the New York Drama Critics’ Circle, Best New Play (Drama Desk Awards) and Outstanding Play (Lucille Lortel Awards). Doubt, A Parable won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

The subsequent Hollywood film starring Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis, received 4 Oscar and 3 BAFTA nominations.

Now Doubt, A Parable, in which a Catholic school principal questions a priest’s ambiguous relationship with a troubled young student, is to get its first London revival in 10 years.

“What do you do when you’re not sure?” So asks Father Flynn, the progressive and beloved priest at the St. Nicholas Church School in the Bronx, in his sermon. It’s 1964, and things are changing, to the chagrin of rigid principal Sister Aloysius. However, when an unconscionable accusation is levelled against the Father, Sister Aloysius realises that the only way to get justice is to create it herself. And as for the truth of the matter? As Father Flynn says, “Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty.”

In stunning prose, John Patrick Shanley delves into the murky shadows of moral certainty, his characters always balancing on the thin line between truth and consequences.

Creative Team
Director – Ché Walker
Set and Costume Designer – PJ McEvoy
Lighting Designer – Tim Lutkin
Sound Designer – Joshua Robins
Casting Director – Ellie Collyer-Bristow

Sister Aloysius – Stella Gonet
Mrs Muller – Jo Martin
Father Flynn – Jonathan Chambers
Sister James – Clare Latham

Making Productions & Grafitti Productions in association with
MBL Productions and
ProdUse Theatre present

Doubt, A Parable
By John Patrick Shanley
6 – 30 SEPTEMBER 2017


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