Doubt: A Parable – Review

Did he or didn’t he? In an age of ‘Cancel Culture’, when unfounded gossip and innuendo can destroy lives and reputations, how can we condemn without certainty?

It’s 17 years since John Patrick Shanley’s award-winning play, Doubt: A Parable, premiered and this blistering revival from Chichester Festival Theatre shows that its controversial themes are just as relevant today.

Monica Dolan is riveting as firebrand Sister Aloysius who accuses her liberal, basketball-playing priest, Father Flynn, of molesting an altar boy.

Director (and actor) Lia Williams keeps up the tension with a taut, 95 minute production, that concentrates the theatre’s attention on the stark stage where accusations and denials pitch two sides of the Catholic Church against each other. 

Doubt opens up a complex debate about guilt, certainty and how far a clash of personalities can influence opinion.

At its heart is an intransigent nun who is convinced that a priest’s love and caring of his parishioners, in this case an abused 12-year-old boy, has gone too far. She’s determined to bring him down. 

Doubt is set in The Bronx, New York, in 1964 during a time when the Catholic Church globally was undergoing huge reform and modernisation. From 1962-65 Pope John XXIII called a council, known as Vatican II, to re-evaluate the position of the Roman Catholic Church in modern society. 

But the upheaval split attitudes. On the one side were the traditional hellfire and damnation priests who lived apart from their parishioners. 

On the other were the new age pastors who believed in inclusion, community involvement and caring.

Rigid and conservative Sister Aloysius Beauvier is principal of the fictitious St Nicholas school where little Donald Muller is the only African-American boy in a school of predominantly Irish Catholics. 

Her high sense of duty goes into overdrive when the young, naïve and eager-to-please novice teacher, Sister James (Jessica Rhodes), hints that the parish priest, Father Flynn, seemed to be taking a keen interest in Muller.

Before you know it the head teacher is convinced he is a wrong ‘un and her determination to prove that Flynn is guilty of sexual abuse becomes an obsession.

Dolan is a triumph as the sharp-tongued accuser who rounds on Sam Spruell’s kindly priest although her crisis of faith moment was a little over the top.

And Spruell is commanding and rather enigmatic as Father Flynn. His clashes with the fiery Aloysius are incendiary, sparks flying off both as accusations are hurled and rebutted.

Is the priest hiding something? Guilty or innocent? Shanley leaves it very much up to audiences to decide. A terrific and thrilling revival.

Doubt: A Parable runs in the Festival Theatre until this Saturday, February 5.

Doubt: A Parable
  • Doubt: A Parable
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Summary

Monica Dolan triumphs in Chichester Festival Theatre’s revival of John Patrick Shanley’s explosive play, Doubt: A Parable.

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