The lady’s not for turning: Doubt A Parable @swkplay

It feels as if Doubt, A Parable, has transformed the Southwark Playhouse into a church. There’s the smell of incense, the stained glass and way too many seats for the audience in attendance. But a sensational subject, the ambiguity of the story and terrific performances make this a must see.

It’s a tense and brisk and ambiguous piece that will leave you debating exactly what you saw.

The award-winning play by John Patrick Shanley is set in a fictional Catholic school in the Bronx in 1964. Sister Aloysius (Stella Gonet) is the head of a grade school. She’s convinced that Father Flynn (Jonathan Chambers) has had an inappropriate relationship with a boy in her school.

It’s never mentioned what, but knowledge of various church sex scandals is firmly in your mind. The other complication is that the boy, Donald Muller is the only black child in school.

But there is more to the piece which is set during a time of uncertainty and change. The Kennedy assassination, Vatican 2, the introduction of ball point pens is challenging established views. The two characters serve as a clash of generations and world views. It’s the charismatic and personable Father Flynn versus the detached conviction of Sister Aloysius.

It’s fascinating to watch Gonet and Chambers verbally spar and convey a battle between two different world views.

In her pursuit of Father Flynn, Sister Aloysius enlists the support of an inexperienced teacher at the school, Sister James (Clare Latham) and Donald Muller’s mother (Jo Martin). The confrontation with Martin also serves as a heartbreaking moment underscoring the bigger issues around power, race, class and sexuality.

It’s a minimalist production, with a few steps and stained glass windows. This allows to focus on the story and the performances but it is also a little distracting. When the script references props and furniture that is missing and makes it feel like you’re at a reading of the piece.

In the piece Father Flynn explains his preference for parables over real life as the truth makes for a bad sermon. No doubt that serves as the motivation for writer John Patrick Shanley here. He adapted this piece for the movie with Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams. But here it’s presented in its essence, and it feels like it has more edge.

Directed by Chè Walker, Doubt A Parable is at the Southwark Playhouse until 30 September.


​Photos by: Paul Nicholas Dyke

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