Bristol Theatre Reviews

Review – Doubt: A Parable by Misplaced Theatre at Alma Tavern Theatre

Misplaced Theatre stages a cracking play which provokes hot debate

Misplaced Theatre is at the Alma Tavern Theatre this week with John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt: A Parable.

It’s a great chance to see this play, which for us sparked animated debate on the way home – a hallmark of a good production.

The play is set in a Bronx Catholic school in 1964. It’s the year after the assassination of John F Kennedy. The issue continues to play on the minds of priest Father Flynn’s congregation. He opens with the question – “What do you do when you’re not sure?” It sets the context for the events to come.

The progressive and easy nature of highly respected priest Flynn, played by an enigmatic Connor Wulfric, rubs up against Sister Aloysius.

Amy Tanner’s stern and formidable headteacher is a genuine throwback to nuns of the time. She’s pragmatic in the extreme and old fashioned with conservative values. But, she has seen enough of the world and the church for her personal alarm bells to ring.

She suspects Flynn of behaving inappropriately with the only Black child in the school – altar boy Donald Muller.

There is no hard evidence to prove this and the laid back priest’s likeability sees her standing alone without support.

Sister Aloysius relies on her astute nature alongside her safeguarding responsibilities to try and investigate and solve the problem alone. The hierarchical nature of the church leaves her in the unfortunate position of lacking the power to deal with things officially.

Shanley’s play was first staged in 2004, the same year a church commissioned report found 4,000 US Roman Catholic priests had faced sex abuse allegations going back 50 years and involving more than 10,000 children, most of whom were boys.

Despite mourning the move to ball point pens and considering Frosty The Snowman to be bordering on heretical, Sister Aloysius is more progressive than perhaps she and the audience is aware of. She cannot evidence it, but she has perceived a predator amongst her children, likely from her personal experience within the Catholic church and will go to extremes to protect them.

This throws up questions around fairness and casting aspersions and serious accusations on the character of people without proof.

She brings in Corrine Walker who gives a quietly dignified performance as Donald Muller’s mother. Walker is not only a victim of racism and racist segregation, but is dealing with issues such as domestic violence, homophobia and sexism in 60’s America. All of this is complicated with the added intersectionality of being Black. She sees the inequality in the way her son is being targeted, but is also aware that rocking any boats puts her son’s college future in jeopardy.

Walker also sings the haunting sound of Silent Night, which rings out over the drama during scene changes.

Alice Coles plays the wide-eyed and somewhat naive teacher Sister James. The young teacher loves her job, expanding children’s love of subjects such as history, art and music, much to the chagrin of Sister Aloysius. Sister James, however, is the closest confidant she trusts with her concerns.

Coles plays her in a perfect balance to Tanner’s severe Aloysius.

The action plays out in front of a beautiful backdrop by designer Anita Gander, lit by Ester Warren.

As the play progresses, the cast hooks you in. Clues scattered throughout the play text stack up on both sides, with the ending left open to audience interpretation.

The ending feels quite dark, coming full circle to similar themes with which it opened. It sparks did he or didn’t he questions. Was she right or wrong? What are the ethical implications in this parable?

Despite being written in the early 2000s, it feels as relevant as ever. Social media polarises view points to the extreme and people can be publicly tried, cancelled or harassed in real time, sometimes at the mere perception of wrong doing without supporting evidence. Even when there has been strong supporting evidence, beloved powerful personalities have got away with all kinds of wrong, especially within power structures which protects them.

Contrariwise, false allegations can ruin lives.

Doubt: A Parable, is a powerfully written piece of theatre which Misplaced more than rise to the challenge of staging.

If you’re looking for something to entertain you this week which is well-crafted, interesting, sparks a post-show debate and a lot of thought, this is exactly what you want.

Doubt: A Parable is on at the Alma Tavern Theatre until 13 April 2024

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Cast and Creatives
Father Brendan Flynn – Connor Wulfric
Sister Aloysius Beauvier – Amy Tanner
Sister James – Alice Coles
Mrs. Muller – Corinne Walker

Directed by Jo Butler
Lighting and Sound by Esther Warren
Set Design and Costumes by Anita Gander
Photography and Videography by Jordan Davies and Harrison Thorne of JGD Photography
Produced by Misplaced Theatre
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