Doubt – A Parable
The 2005 Pulitzer Prize winning drama returns to London after 10 years, and this production at Southwark Playhouse makes a strong case for its revival. Set within a Bronx Catholic school in 1964, the play presents conflicting ideals regarding progress within the Church, and plots them against each other. When liberal and charismatic Father Flynn is found to have spent time alone with one of his students, reactionary Sister Aloysius proceeds to orchestrate his downfall, along with the progressive attitudes he champions.
The 90-minute run offers a breathless battle of wit and conviction between Flynn and Aloysius, tautly directed by Ché Walker. In scenes that offer relief and comedy, Sister Aloysius, formidably played by Stella Gonet, attempts to toughen up the nervous and sweet-natured Sister James (Clare Latham), ‘Look at you, you’d do anything for a warm look’. The relationship between the Sisters becomes co-dependent: Aloysius seeks to draw viable accounts of Flynn’s misconduct from James, as the latter strives for her senior’s approval in the demand that: ‘The heart is warm but the wits must be cold.’
Jonathan Chambers is a charming Father Flynn, delivering his sermons with passion and conviction that does justice to the script’s stunning prose. There is, however, room for nuance in his character that would allow the suspicions leveled against him to truly seduce the audience. As it goes, the scales of ‘doubt’ weigh heavily in the favour of his innocence. We side with him even more firmly when Sister Aloysius maliciously twists evidence against him, pulling Sister James into a vortex of guilt. As she helplessly watches the priest’s undoing, James admits, ‘I’ve lost myself’.
The brilliant Jo Martin punctures the tension as the bold and animated Mrs. Muller, mother of the alleged victim. Called in by Sister Aloysius to join the crusade against Flynn, she demonstrates staunch pragmatism in achieving the best opportunities for her son at any cost. In an indignant outburst she says, ‘Everybody has their reasons’, a line that astutely attacks Aloysius’s true motives.
The audience sits on all four sides of PJ McEvoy’s clever set design. The raised church floor in the shape of a cross puts faith firmly at the center of this play, whilst lending itself to clever direction by Walker. When positioned at either end of the cross, Aloysius and Flynn visually demonstrate their opposing attitudes to faith, and in confrontation, the church becomes a religious barricade behind which they defend their principles. The red glow beneath the floor is the threat of hell that presents itself amidst the drama.
Father Flynn says: ‘It’s you against yourself at the end line’. In a world where lives are still ruined by false gossip, this play would benefit from more uncertainty regarding his innocence. Beyond its religious setting, however, John Patrick Shanley’s play is a study of human integrity, pride and justice. This production does a great job of asking: To what lengths would you go to uphold your principles? And what is the cost of conviction?
Until 30 September 2017