Tuesday, 12 September 2017
Theatre review: Doubt, a Parable
But with no proof, and an official complaints procedure that would automatically take the priest’s side, Aloysius has to take matters into her own hands, first by dropping hints then confronting a defiant Flynn.
Shanley’s play avoids confirming or denying outright whether Flynn is guilty, although by the end it’s been heavily implied that he is; as the title suggests, the remaining element of doubt is the point. Another question mark is over Aloysius’ motivations – in all other respects she barely seems concerned about the children’s wellbeing so this crusade seems largely motivated by her dislike for this specific priest.
Ché Walker’s production is atmospheric, taking place in the round on a cross-shaped set by PJ McEvoy, light coming up through stained glass in the floor, giving a sense of place without overwhelming the action. I must admit though to being distracted by Chambers playing Flynn as the campest priest since Graham Norton on Father Ted. In part because I expected him to Z-snap at the end of every sermon, in part because playing him so flamboyant takes “hiding in plain sight” to new levels. Add to this his affectation of growing his nails long like a shit Bond villain, and between him and the prim – though thankfully not entirely humourless – Aloysius it’s hard to find someone to root for in the central conflict.
Easier to like is Latham’s excellent Sister James, a genuine innocence and enthusiasm getting crushed by reality, while the play’s best scene sees Mrs Muller (Jo Martin,) mother of the suspected victim, confront Aloysius over the ways her crusade could actually end up harming her son. Her tacit acceptance that her son might get abused for a few months, in exchange for an education not all black kids in 1964 could expect, is the darkest and most interesting area the play explores, where elsewhere its deliberate vagueness can leave it feeling unsatisfying.
Doubt, a Parable by John Patrick Shanley is booking until the 30th of September at Southwark Playhouse’s Large Theatre.
Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes straight through.
Photo credit: Paul Nicholas Dyke.