Review: Doubt: A Parable

Jess Moor 22 June 2012

Doubt: A Parable

Corpus Mainshow, 7pm, until Sat 23rd June


‘Doubt: A Parable’ is the careful misnomer of John Patrick Stanley’s magnificent piece – which explores an eternal conundrum through the lens of a very modern hysteria toward the Catholic church and its shady connections with paedophilia.

If parables, as one character suggests in the course of the play, are constructed to tease simplicity out of the chaos of everyday life for an accessible moral, then ‘Doubt’ does the opposite. The play is a constantly shifting and changing entity, teasing its audience with prospects of a coherent commentary (racism, sexism, the Catholic Church, the individual versus the establishment) only to whip the carpet out from under their feet again and again. Anyone who tries to treat Doubt as a mystery to be solved does a disservice to the complexity of the thought that it represents.

To present such a piece in a student setting looks like a risk on paper, but it transpires that director Niall Wilson had every reason to have confidence in his absolutely stellar cast. The fourstrong ensemble does not have a weak link among them, and the near-flawless performances of all contain both the intensity to make the script sing, and the restraint to prevent one from overpowering the rest. Liane Grant as Sister Aloysius and Max Upton as Father Flynn effortlessly shoulder the two most challenging roles, creating an electric dynamic as the power shifts seamlessly between them, rendering the intimate space of Corpus Playroom taut and the audience utterly rapt. Victoria Rigby is no less triumphant in the (arguably less demanding) role of Sister James, the rookie teacher who accompanies the audience in her horror at the dawning cynicism and paranoia. She could easily be shrill and annoying, but her freshfaced tenderness makes a fine case for the desirability of the state of innocence which other characters cannot help but discard. Temi Wilkey as Mrs Muller handles her single scene with nuance and grace, doing fine justice to a role which carries a high risk of a one-note performance.

The key to ‘Doubt’ is believability, as the demand placed upon the actors to be utterly convincing and at once open to scrutiny is a high one. It is possible to believe both Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn at once with utter conviction, and if there is a moral to the parable, then it is this infinite unknowability of things. It is not, the audience gradually realises, what actually happened that matters, but rather the stories that are constructed to lend it coherency, and the very real repercussions that those stories have on those within the line of fire.

This is far and away the best production that I’ve seen in Cambridge all year – and if you’re planning on seeing just one play this May Week, make sure that Niall Wilson’s ‘Doubt’ is it.

Jess Moor