Doubt: A Parable

JAKE ARNOTT is left with not a single one about the quality of this production.

Corpus Playroom, 19th-23rd June, 7pm, £5-6

[rating: 4/5]

Directed by Niall Wilson

Certainty or doubt? Niall Wilson’s gripping production asks us to question not only whether certainty is within reach, but whether it is even to be desired. Set in the Bronx of the sixties, in the stifling confines of that most doubt-ridden of institutions – the Catholic Church – the play follows the absolute, unshakeable certainty of Headmistress Sister Aloysius that Father Flynn, the school’s priest, is molesting children.

Liane Grant’s Sister Aloysius is the lynchpin of the production, and her performance is unwaveringly assured. Her control as an actress is formidable, and she fully inhabits her role as the hard-edged stickler, allowing her to bring out the deep subtleties of the character. Equally impressive is Max Upton as the enigmatic and troubled Father Flynn, and it is the encounters between these two characters which focus the play’s slow-building intensity.

Upton’s magnetism onstage is undeniable, and only by the high technical standard set by Grant are the younger actor’s tiny, nit-picky slips shown up.

Victoria Rigby perfectly pitches her performance as the naive (or faux-naive?) Sister James – she is necessarily less interesting to watch, almost becoming a pawn between Aloysius and Flynn, but like Grant, Rigby brings a great subtlety to her performance, allowing the unstated ambiguities of her character to come through.

It is through the attractively innocent Sister James that the audience can become aware of the dangers of believing what we want to believe – the uncomfortable acknowledgement that certainty and complacency are not the same thing.

The slow pace of the opening scenes is mostly the result of the play’s very long fuse. The script is beautifully nuanced and the direction seamlessly inconspicuous, leading to some impressively muted exchanges. However, despite an excitingly portentous opening sermon from Upton, the first act does drag ever so slightly, which is perhaps paradoxically a result of a perfectly controlled production.

It almost doesn’t matter who, in the end, is right – but this talented and compelling cast will make you desperate to find out.