A beautifully, yet anguished metaphor of gossip being like a pillow being slashed open and feathers scattered all over the city perfectly describes the damages of which Doubt, A Parable demonstrates. Starting with a strong sermon, we are found in the Bronx in 1960’s, within religiously run St Nicholas Church School. As we delve between the lines on the blackboard in the classroom and potential undisclosed secrets, a mess of accusations come to head when Father Flynn is being seen to become a little too close to Donald Muller, who also happens to be the first dark skinned child to attend the school.
The staging of being in the round works both with and against the cast. On one note, it reveals a unique ‘fly on the wall’ experience for each audience member, being able to catch varying expressions that they may otherwise not have focused on. However, some moments are lost.
A simple, yet decorated set allows for the cast to be the soul centre of attention with a great use of levels to differentiate from certain areas of the school. Even during moments where it is mentioned in the text that characters are using props, such as tea or a pen, Chè Walker has decided to disregard this in order to focus on the emotionally charged and politically powered back-and-forth between characters. This is achieved with varying degrees of success, with certain instances of confusing theatrical language. That said, it was certainly a different, bold and memorable choice.
The cast strongly work with each other to create heightened moments of tension. The play itself starts off somewhat slowly, but once the ball gets rolling the audience are completely glued. Stella Gonet as Sister Aloysius is cold yet enchanting as headmistress at the school, and it’s hard to tell whether her convictions are clever discoveries or if she is tormented by her own conclusions. Jonathan Chambers provides a deeply complex performance to keep the audience guessing if Sister Aloysius’ accusations are true or not, and Clare Latham brings a refreshingly spriteful approach as Sister James.
Mrs Muller, played by Jo Martin, although a small part, packs a huge punch and has a lasting impact on the audience. Her ballsy and unforgettable scene with Sister Aloysius actually gets its own round of applause as Martin exits the stage; that, ladies and gentlemen, is truly how to make your mark on a scene.
Having an open-ended cliff hanger leaves the audience with equal supporting evidence on either side, causing a post-show kaleidoscope of mixed opinion and debate. This is a clever tactic from writer John Patrick Shanley, and is handled well by Walker, as he scatters doubt onall characters and supports clever choices made in subtle gestures. It would be far too easy to give away the ending on a subject matter so sensitive, which only reinforces the overall power of the piece. No matter what your interpretation, this show will continue with its popularity to inspire conversations within its audience.
Doubt: A Parable is playing at The Southwark Playhouse until 30th September.
Photo: Paul Nicholas Dyke