Review: DOUBT: A PARABLE, Chichester Festival Theatre

Monica Dolan and Sam Spruell shine in their Chichester Festival Theatre debut

By: Jan. 28, 2022
Review: DOUBT: A PARABLE, Chichester Festival Theatre

Review: DOUBT: A PARABLE, Chichester Festival Theatre John Patrick Shanley's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Doubt: A Parable, is a courtroom built to question your understanding of integrity. Chichester Festival Theatre's revival is equally sharp and profound, echoing the vast ambiguity and loss of faith hidden within a pursuit of righteousness.

Beginning with a sermon about doubt from the immaculate Father Flynn, played by Sam Spruell, the bustling world of a 1960s Catholic school charges into action. Flynn's sermons echo thoughts of obedience and submission, building fear and uncertainty as you're forced to ask yourself - do I believe this man could be a predator?

Spruell is fascinating as the upbeat pastor, attending his work with a face full of charming piety. Flynn is devoted to the notion that children should be treated with warmth and kindness even in his efforts to deviate Sister Aloysius from her exposition. Although Aloysius seeps further under his skin, we never quite see the mask fall away, leaving a true sense of doubt lingering long after the final bows.

Monica Dolan as Sister Aloysius is a formidable defence against Spruell's determined pastor. Once Flynn finds himself on the edge of facing judgement outside of Aloysius's office, a ferocious battle ensues, leaving you equally as exhausted from outside of the ring. One thing there can be no uncertainty about is that these two are titans of their industry, delivering painful stories of shame and deception with an astute devotion to their craft.

The only confidante for these rivals is the wide-eyed Sister James, an enthusiastic schoolteacher whose student Donald Muller is the focus of Flynn's attention. Jessica Rhodes delivers youthful intention, but her responses are sometimes lost due to her hurried energy.

In an attempt to secure evidence that supports her suspicion, Sister Aloysius invites Mrs Muller to her office. Mrs Muller, Rebecca Scroggs, is a fraught woman who is all too aware of the pain her son must endure to see the same opportunities as his white peers. Their conversation is bitterly impactful and begs for evidence of resolution, if only for Mrs Muller to finally find peace.

Joanna Scotcher's design paired with Sydney Florence's costumes transform the stage into a dark, concrete canvas. The angular detail of their work hovers on the edge of beauty and discomfort. The costume's authenticity derives from hand-drawn samples provided by the Sisters of Charity in New York, the same parish that Shanley was taught under as a child. The effort to create a space of such immense detail that reflects both the characters' turmoil and Shanley's own experiences is truly remarkable.

The realism does not end with the tactile features of the piece: Melanie Pappenheim and Giles Perring have crafted a sound world worthy of equal praise. Pappenheim's own voice is offered in evocative juxtaposition to Perring's real-life audio recordings. The muffled sounds of rambunctious students in class and walking down the halls match the pace and accuracy of school life. Paul Keogan's lighting is emotive and in perfect sync with the creative choices throughout.

Doubt doesn't lay out the evidence, or the verdict, to be simply consumed and forgotten. The subject of Father Flynn's innocence is a mirror to the judgement culture that we still rely upon to this very day. Direction by Lia Williams presents acute functionality within the space and allows the heavy themes of the narrative to fill the air. There is no option to avoid casting judgement, Doubt won't let you forget the part you play in the pursuit of good faith and honest men.

Doubt: A Parable at Chichester Festival Theatre returning 22 -26 February

Photo credit: Johan Persson