Doubt, A Parable at Southwark Playhouse
Have you ever been sure? So sure, that evidence no longer matters? Or is your heart full of doubt? In John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer-winning play, these concepts are thrown eloquently together in a small and ecclesiastical environment – making us question our certainties and our doubts.
Set in a Catholic church during the autumn of 1964, dogmatic nun Sister Aloysius is suspicious of the new priest, Father Flynn. She distrusts his warm attitude towards the children. After hearing from the young Sister James about Father Flynn having a private meeting with the altar boy, Aloysius accuses him of molesting the child.
Southwark Playhouse is an intimate venue, which resonates with the psychological significance of the piece. The stage is designed as a church floor, in the shape of a crucifix, surrounded on all sides by the audience. Director Ché Walker forces theatregoers to watch and judge the characters from all angles, like we’re members of a courtroom jury. We are just as involved as they are.
The play is mostly straight, but has deep, introspective interludes where one character is alone on stage to engage their inner torments. Hellish lighting rises from the church floor as they ponder their guilt and doubts. It’s only in these moments where we gain any kind of certainty about these people, despite them being deeply uncertain in themselves.
Each character possesses their own vividness, and the performances perfectly capture their idiosyncrasies. Stella Gonet and Clare Latham share the best and most humorous scenes as Sister Aloysius and Sister James. There are moments when the balance between comedy and drama sways, making one confused about whether to laugh or not, but these are rare occurrences. Jonathan Chambers gives Father Flynn an extroverted charm and we trust him during his sermons as he interacts cordially with the audience. However, it’s Jo Martin as Mrs Muller, the altar boy’s mother, who is the most memorable – an impressive feat, considering the character has only one scene. Martin gives the character a commanding presence, dominating over the arrogant power of Sister Aloysius.
Walker has created a tense atmosphere, where nobody can be certain about anything. Judgement is not objective, it’s decided in the minds of individual people. It’s left up to us to decide who’s right and who’s wrong – but our conscience will always be left unsettled.
Photo: Paul Nicholas Dyke
Doubt, A Parable is at Southwark Playhouse from 6th until 30th September 2017. For further information or to book visit here.