Doubt: A Parable

Tue 19th – Sat 23rd June 2012

reviews

Marion Pragt

at 14:29 on 21st Jun 2012

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“Truth makes for a bad sermon”, Father Flynn (Max Upton) claims, telling his parish stories about doubt and gossip instead. His charisma and open-mindedness do not go down well with Sister Aloysius (Liane Grant), the parish school’s principal. When he is seen alone with Donald, a vulnerable pupil, after which Donald’s teacher Sister James (Victoria Rigby) notices the boy’s odd behaviour and smells alcohol on his breath, Aloysius feels that something needs to be done. Liane Grant was at her best here, using her voice, small gestures and her face’s sharp features to shape her character’s growing suspicions. Sister Aloysius collects, or perhaps creates, little snippets of evidence to convict Father Flynn. Yet does she merely disagree of his popular manner, his use of the ballpoint pen and his enthusiasm, or has he indeed acted inappropriately?

Yet Doubt: A Parable is about much more than ‘did he or didn’t he’. Set in 1964, against the background of the Second Vatican Council, the atmosphere of the years is made palpable. Whenever a nun and a priest met, a third party was present or the door was left slightly opened for the sake of chastity, and sister Aloysius was told off for not following the church’s protocols but taking action herself. Furthermore, Donald was always talked about, but never appeared on stage, showing that the adults’ doubts and convictions, rather than what exactly happened to the boy, were central.

The play featured the generational conflict between the authoritative Aloysius, who nevertheless took matters into her own hands, thus neglecting the church’s statutes, and Father Flynn who longed for a warm, welcoming and personal church. That difference in generation is emphasised in this production by representing Sister Aloysius as middle-aged, whereas Father Flynn seems to be a relatively young priest. He is her superior nevertheless, and Aloysius embodies the courage it takes for a nun to stand up against a man. Matters of race played a role too, as Donald is the first African-American student in the church’s school and conservative community that does not seem to accept him. Faith and doubt, how to justify your decisions and with whom to side if there is no clear evidence were themes at the heart of the play.

Grant always made sure that, bossy and preoccupied with discipline as Aloysius may seem, she did not appear inhuman. Having been married and having lost her husband in the war before taking her vows, she has a wider experience of life than one might expect at first and Grant aptly brought out these sides of her. Speaking about an accident one of her fellow sisters had, but meaning much more, Aloysius said: “Nuns fall, you know, it’s the habit, which is all black and white, that causes them to fall, making nuns more like dominoes than anything else.”

Temi Wilkey impressed as Donald’s mother and pulled off a great accent. Just on stage for one scene, she spoke up for her son in a surprising way, making her performance perhaps the most moving of the night. In fact, all actors delivered very good individual performances, but it was their working together that made this play memorable. The interactions between the two sisters, between Aloysius and Father Flynn, or between Flynn and Sister James showed that doubt can indeed be as powerful a bond as certainty.

Following the events, Sister James complained about sleeplessness and bad dreams whereupon Aloysius replied: “Maybe we aren’t meant to sleep well.” Never failing to hold your attention and make you wonder, Doubt: A Parable is unsatisfactory in the best possible way. In the end, even Sister Aloysius admitted: “I have doubts, I have such doubts”, and the audience is left feeling much the same.

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