Shadow of Doubt
John Patrick Shanley's Doubt, A Parable
Southwark Playhouse | London
directed by Ché Walker
It’s 1964 and we find ourselves gathered today at the Church of St Nicholas. It’s a school in the Bronx, New York City. However all is not rosy, through manipulation or suspicion or maybe just sweet innocence. The Father of the Parish has been reported to the principal sister. His crime? Well, that’s never explicitly revealed and cleverly left to the depths of our cynical imagination. But put it this way – when that 12 year old student left the Father’s office there was booze on his breath and a sad look in his eye. We now go on a journey to uncover the truth – at all costs.
John Patrick Stanley’s Pulitzer and Tony Award winning play Doubt, A Parable is a perfect dismantling on the foibles of human beings. Both the terrible deeds that we are capable of committing and the terrible deeds that we are capable of imagining - how little faith we have in fellow human beings.
This production never really gets to flow however, PJ McEvoy’s set is confusing and a little ragged, a large stepped cross in the centre of the stage that is littered with shards of stained glass. The glass lights up at intermittent intervals although there’s little continuity to it and it feels a little gimmicky rather than helping to endow the space or the scene. The performers also are devoid of props, there are several mentions of ballpoint pens yet we never see one. A whole scene where the father and sisters share a cup of tea, yet there are no cups and no tea. Now, I don’t mean to be anti-mime but it seems odd when not committed fully and then even more odd when in other scenes notably when the plants in the courtyard are being covered for frost we have both plants and covers. A little bit more conviction from director Ché Walker would have helped us understand the rules in which he wanted us to play by.
The performances, however, tell a different story as they do a very admirable job in bringing the heart of this play to life. Clare Latham is a stand-out as Sister James, her innocent wide-eyed school teacher is wonderfully transformed throughout the play as the burden of guilt, suspicion and, well, doubt begins to weigh on her shoulders. She is the lynchpin of the piece and helps to balance Sister Aloysius (Stella Gonet) and her almost witchlike incessant hunt for the truth and the righteous, calm and deflective manner of Father Flynn (Jonathan Chambers). Finally, Jo Martin who plays the mother of the potentially molested boy, may only have one scene but my gosh she makes it count.
photo | ©Paul Nicholas Dyke