Doubt: A Parable, currently on at The Alma Tavern Theatre in Bristol, is an extremely clever play which leads you to question, and even doubt, each of the four characters in turn. This performance was well pitched, subtly undulating between comedic and dark.
The play follows events that unfold over two months, Sister Aloysius; a nun and Principal at St Nicolas’ catholic school, suspects something isn’t quite right about Father Flynn who is new to the school. Her concerns become real when one of the teachers; Sister James, mentions a private meeting between Father Flynn and a young boy from her class.
Sister Aloysius knows the hierarchy of the church, and in 1964 as a woman without proof, her word would mean nothing. So she can not go to anyone else above her to investigate this matter, she must remain in control and deal with this herself. But she needs a witness, and so innocent, naive Sister James dragged deeper in to the web of contradictions.
Father Flynn presents two key sermons, one as the opening of the play and the second after the seed of doubt has been sown. The sermons further throw the audience off the scent of whether he is guilty of what he is being accused of or not, and cast further shades of grey on to what should be a black and white issue. Tom Colebrook who plays Father Flynn has a deep resonating voice, a piercing stare, and a convincing Bronx accent.
We meet the mother of the aforementioned boy, and as a woman who is supposed to protect her child Mrs Muller leads us to question what is more important; a good education, or protecting his childhood and sexual innocence. Considering the context of the play, set in 1964, Mrs Muller and her son are black and trying to build a good life, she must choose between these two things. Mrs Muller is played by Jenny Davis, and she comes across as a little precocious, perhaps a bit too confident for her social standing but this removes the power for a moment from Sister Aloysius, diverting the course of the play.
Each scene of this play flips the issues over, and asks us to consider the other side. There is a right and a wrong, but without conclusive proof who do you believe, and who really has the power.
In the end we don’t really know if good has reigned over evil or not – each person may have a different opinion. It would be fascinating to see this same story played out in modern-day Ireland, removing some (although not all) of the assumptions around gender equality and racism.
This performance by Thoughtful Theatre brought together four actors with varying degrees of experience, but managed to match them together well. It was a smooth performance with little fuss, and a simple set and lighting design, allowing the main focus to be the actors and story.
Perhaps a little more sound would have been nice, the distinct lack of children was somewhat spooky – although perhaps this was intentional. Background noise of children playing, or some sombre organ music during the contemplative scenes would have helped change the tempo.
Father Flynn is played by Tom Colebrook, Sister Aloysius by Paula O’Rourke, Sister James by Jaleelah Galbraith, and Mrs Muller by Jenny Davis. The Director is Bob Havard and Production Manager is Terri Mohiuddin. Doubt: A Parable is an award winning play by John Patrick Shanley.
Doubt: A Parable is on until Saturday 14th November 2015 at The Alma Tavern Theatre, buy your ticket here now!
Why not read some other reviews while you are here, recent theatre reviews include And Then Come the Nightjars and Glory Dazed.