Review: Doubt – A Parable, Chichester Festival Theatre

Monica Dolan is more than worth the journey in Lia Williams’ striking production of Doubt: A Parable at Chichester Festival Theatre

“May I ask what you are writing down with that ball-point pen?”

I always knew it would take something, or somone, special to tempt me out on my first out-of-London theatre trip in Lord knows how long and I don’t think that anyone could argue that Monica Dolan onstage again fits that bill. She’s currently starring in Chichester Festival Theatre’s production of a rather short run of Doubt: A Parable, directed by the no less irresistible Lia Williams

John Patrick Shanley’s play (last seen in London in a Stella Gonet-starring production at Southwark Playhouse) deals most effectively in the relationship – such as there is any – between moral certainty and notions of truth. Written in 2005, it remains depressingly relevant in its depiction of polarised viewpoints and debate that can’t escape sinking into rancour and of course, the long shadow cast by endless tales of church-sanctioned abuse.

The two sides here are occupied by school principal Sister Aloysius Beauvier and teacher Father Brendan Flynn, working in the Bronx in the 1960s. She’s a stickler for tradition, he likes to play basketball with his students and so when he’s seen spending time alone with one of the boys, she is determined to bring him down since he must have done something wrong. Mustn’t he?

The beauty of Shanley’s play is that nothing is black and white, something which plays much more effectively in this production than it did in SE1. Moral complications bring in multiple shades of grey and Williams sets about ensuring we never sit too easily with our presumptions. Dolan’s Sister Aloysius is challengingly obdurate but in the face of the religious patriarchy, she needs to be. And Sam Spruell’s Father Flynn switches far too easily betwixt victim and perpetrator, leaving us terminally unsure if and where blame should fall.

There’s excellent work too from Rebecca Scroggs as the young lad’s long-suffering mother, a racial dynamic also coming into play. And Joanna Scotcher’s design work is simply stunning, a striking visual impact that evokes that liminal space of uncertainty. One thing you can be sure of though, is Monica Dolan is one of our finest actors working today, get there if you can.

Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Johan Persson
Doubt – A Parable is booking at Chichester Festival Theatre until 5th February

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