Pros: Thrillingly chilling!
Cons: At pivotal times you see the actors’ backs.
Doubt, A Parable is a Pulitzer Prize, Drama Desk Award and Tony Award winner and it makes its 10 year London revival at the Southwark Playhouse this September. John Patrick Shanley’s most acclaimed play takes centrestage and trust me, it is a comeback to remember.
It was my first visit to Southwark Playhouse and I applaud Ché Walker for managing to direct in such a space. The theatre is wonderful, the space is vast and the acoustics are great, however the challenge is presented by the staging of this production. The performance is staged in the round, foregoing the traditional backstage, so as you enter the room you take your place with the rest of the audience in the raked seats that back onto all four walls. The stage is a beautifully crafted rectangular, stepped pedestal, which also lit up in some of the most dramatic moments with crimson fixtures, an eerie homage to ‘hell’.
The actors had the incredibly difficult job of performing in a 360 degree stage. Even though there were moments that the audience loses out on, expressions that you may miss, the talent of Stella Gonet as Sister Aloysius, Jonathan Chambers as Father Brendan Flynn, Clare Latham as Sister James and Jo Martin as Mrs Muller is unmissable.
The story takes place in fictional St. Nicholas Church School in the Bronx in 1964. We meet Father Flynn with his introductory sermon about the importance of uncertainty – “Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty”. At the end of the sermon, we are introduced to Sister Aloysius. She is the rigid Principal of the school, who is always vigilant around her students and her fellow teachers.
One of the younger nuns, Sister James, later informs Sister Aloysius that Father Flynn had a one-on-one with one of the students – Donald Muller, the first African American student in St. Nicholas. After the meeting, the young teacher gets the feeling that an inappropriate sexual encounter occurred between the priest and the innocent student. The priest is cornered in a meeting with the Principal, in the presence of Sister James. He denies the allegations and says he was only disciplining the boy after he drank alter wine. Although Sister James is relieved and believes him, Sister Aloysius does not back down.
In a series of events, we meet the boy’s mother – Mrs. Muller. In a meeting between her and the Principal we find out some shocking details that cause Mrs. Muller to walk away without being affected by Sister Aloysius’ attempts to shock the mother.
In an intense meeting between Father Flynn and the Principal, the priest is driven to request a transfer to another school. We learn that Sister Aloysius’ threats to disgrace the priest may have been fabricated. The audience is left full of doubt, just like Sister Aloysius, whose call for justice and discipline may have brought some sort of solution to the issue, but also put her faith to the test.
These intense 85 minutes feel like just one breath – proof that the entire cast and crew did their job right. I was left stunned at the end and with so much uncertainty. Full of talent, full of life and full of doubt. Bravo!
Author: John Patrick Shanley
Director: Ché Walker
Produced by: Making Productions and Graffiti Productions in association with MBL Productions and ProdUse Theatre
Booking Until: 30 September 2017
Box Office: 020 7407 0234
Booking Link: http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/show/doubt-a-parable/