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Theatre Review: Doubt is strange, timely and profoundly thought-provoking

TIM WALKER is impressed by Lia Williams' taut and efficient production

Jessica Rhodes (Sister James) and Monica Dolan (Sister Aloysius) In Doubt At Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo: Johan Persson

Doubt: A Parable
Chichester Festival Theatre, until February 5

As our PM and a long and ignoble line of politicians before him have made clear, charisma is often a sticking plaster that hides a multitude of sins. It can also be a thankless task pointing out that charismatics are not what
they seem: most people instinctively take their side, until it’s far too late.

Sam Spruell makes a very good job of Father Flynn in John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Doubt: A Parable, adeptly utilising his authority, the assumption of infallibility that comes with a senior position in the church and every crowd-pleasing trick going to win over his superiors and impressionable young charges at a Catholic school in the Bronx in the 60s. As Sister Aloysius, Monica Dolan is splendidly charmless and unappealing, but she’s the first and only one to have got her colleague’s number.

This play was made into a film that starred Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep, and it came out around the time of Spotlight and Philomena: a
trilogy of films that made legitimate, but controversial criticisms of the Catholic Church.

Father Flynn turns out to be a paedophile, ruthlessly exploiting his position to target one particular boy, but the issues are not as clear cut as they might appear. The boy’s mother – a powerful cameo performance from Rebecca Scroggs – sees the school and the “mentorship” of Flynn as her son’s only way of escaping his family’s abject poverty, and so wishes Sister Aloysius would keep out of it.

Lia Williams’s taut and efficient production is played as a two-hander between Spruell and Dolan and the two actors go for it hammer and tongs. Strong, timely and profoundly thought-provoking theatre.

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