Salome Wagaine on a production that more than does justice to a great play
Doubt is an incredible play and this production at Corpus more than does it justice. Centring around the clash of attitudes and wills of traditionalist Sister Aloysius (Liane Grant) and moderninsing youngster Father Flynn (Max Upton) the challenge for director Niall Wilson was to ensure the pacing remained as taut and gripping as the dialogue in the text itself.
Much of this success is to do with the overlapping of scenes. Opening with Father Flynn doing his Sunday sermon to the audience-congregation, a sense of eeriness was established immediately with the presence of Grant sat at a desk, scratching away at her desk with a fountain pen; throughout the course of the play, we are never quite sure what’s going on in Sister Aloysius’ head but she makes us very much aware of the fact that she thinking hard about most things.
The two central performances were superb. Upton manages to capture the mean-spirited sense of humour, passive aggression and inherent magnetism and charm to the Father Flynn character with seeming ease. Grant manages to make an authoritarian character, austere almost to the extreme, very human. At one point, Father Flynn is in her room along with new teacher, Sister James (Victoria Rigby) and when one glances at Sister Aloysius, we see immediately a woman aware that her hard work and years of service at the school mean nothing in the eyes of the church’s hierarchy compared to this young, progressive man. The humanity present in both portrayals makes for their arguments seem all that more vital and possessive.
Credit too must go to Rigby and Temi Wilkey, who plays the mother of the first black child admitted to the school. Both are in some ways difficult roles- Sister James being at first overly naïve and emotional, yet there being a steely presence to her character, while Mrs Muller is by no means a wholly sympathetic character. At one point, Sister Aloysius asks “What kind of mother are you?” We, the audience are granted an insight into the difficult position of a parent who simply wants her child to exceed expectations and hopefully go to college, with what might seem like a truly uncaring woman trying to make the best of a bad situation. The exchange between Grant and Wilkey’s character could have been more powerful for me, if not because of some slightly awkward blocking- while not necessary at all times to see everyone’s face one stage, I couldn’t see Wilkey at all during for a large part of that particular scene. Indeed, Rigby’s performance as a whole was perhaps the least memorable, but this is in part due to having less material to work with just in terms of the script.
Nevertheless, this is for the most part a meticulous and engaging production, the design both in terms of set and lighting facilitating some wonderful performances. Although it might seem an unusual choice for a May Week show, those familiar either with the film version and the previous work of the director and cast of this production will not be disappointed: this show is well worth a watch, not least because it would be a shame if people’s remaining exposure to the play is in its producing a meme (albeit a great one).