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Doubt, a Parable review at Southwark Playhouse – ‘strong performances’

Jonathan Chambers and Stella Gonet in Doubt at Southwark Playhouse, London. Photo: Paul Nicholas Dyke Jonathan Chambers and Stella Gonet in Doubt at Southwark Playhouse, London. Photo: Paul Nicholas Dyke

Set in a catholic school in the Bronx in the 1960s, John Patrick Shanley’s 2004 Pulitzer-winning play, Doubt, pits the school’s staunchly conservative principal Sister Aloysius against progressive priest Father Flynn.

When altar boy Donald Muller, the school’s only black student, is caught drinking communion wine, Sister Aloysius begins to suspect the nature of Flynn’s relationship with his young charge is more than just one of pastoral care and accuses him of sexual misconduct.

Shanley’s play unpacks the moral and emotional tangle of the situation, while shying away from confirming Flynn’s guilt or innocence. Sister Aloysius sometimes feels like the only one with spine enough to speak out, at other times like a blinkered, bitter old woman with a vendetta

The production reunites director Che Walker with the cast of his 2011 production of Shanley’s Danny and the Deep Blue Sea. But while it contains a number of firecracker moments – Jo Martin’s speech as Donald’s mother is particularly devastating, as she announces that whatever the truth of the relationship between her son and Flynn he’s better off enduring it then taking his chances elsewhere – there’s a mechanical quality to some of the scenes.

PJ McEvoy’s stepped set design, the floor dominated by a large cross, feels a bit cumbersome and while Jonathan Chambers’ Father Flynn is fine, he lacks the liquid ambiguity of Philip Seymour Hoffman In the 2009 film version. Stella Gonet invests Sister Aloysius with the requisite conviction and righteous fire though there are moments where it feels as if she’s not in total command of her lines.

The production is, however, elevated by a performance of radiance and grace from Clare Latham as Sister James, the young nun caught in the middle, unsure who or what to believe.

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Serviceable revival of John Patrick Shanley’s play buoyed by strong performances