Review: Doubt – a Parable, Southwark Playhouse

“What do you do when you’re not sure?”

John Patrick Shanley’s play Doubt, a Parable comes lauded with garlands – Tony Awards, a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, a Hollywood adaptation with none other than Meryl Streep – so it must be a modern classic right? But, written in 2004, with all of the hindsight of how cases of historical sexual abuse in the Catholic church have been (mis-)handled, I find its dramatic ambivalence hard to stomach.

Shanley sidestepped the issue by setting his play in 1964 where a scandal is brewing at the St Nicholas Church School in the Bronx. Or is it? Ferociously strict principal Sister Aloysius is convinced that there is inappropriateness occurring between parish priest Father Flynn and the school’s first black pupil, but her views are coloured by her loathing of Flynn’s modernising ways.

Ché Walker’s production makes atmospheric use of PJ McEvoy’s in-the-round design but never flows, there’s an awkwardness to some of the staging and tbh, some performances weren’t as solid on their lines as one would have expected. It’s hard not to feel that Walker is also hamstrung by Shanley’s crucial equivocation, this kind of ambiguity undermines the dramatic thrust of an issue which deserves much, much more thorough interrogation.

Stella Gonet perhaps overdoes Aloysius’ harshness a touch (a role that has been played by Cherry Jones, Eileen Atkins and Dearbhla Molloy amongst others), so too does Jonathan Chambers’ Flynn feel overplayed, neither one allowing for any real nuance to creep in, to humanise their characters. Stronger work comes from Jo Martin as the boy’s mother, nailing the one standout scene that feels award-worthy now, and from Clare Latham as an innocent young nun caught in the furious crosswinds.

Running time: 85 minutes (without interval)
Photo: Paul Nicholas Dyke
Booking until 30th September

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