Stephen Wheat’s interpretation leaves no subject or stone unturned. A challenge to question doubt in comparison with faith.
This play touches on topics of discrepancy experienced by religious organisations and common global events we are still familiar with today.
Church bells chime, a priest provides a sermon. Father Flynn, Daniel Humphris; tells a fable of a man lost at sea who sets his course by the stars. For twenty days and twenty nights he is lost and clouds overhead. He clings onto the hope he will end up home or in the right place? His faith is the raft.
Penny Larkins plays the matriarchal Principal Sister Aloysius, presiding over the Catholic school. She sits in her stark habit, in her bland office, behind her sturdy desk. She lectures the younger teacher Sister James, Krista Thomson and makes her doubt her teaching abilities.
There is no room for doubt in Sister Aloysius’ opinion of Father Flynn. No suggestion of his innocence from Sister James, will sway her. She coerces Sister James to attend a meeting to confront him, under the guise of the upcoming school Christmas pageant.
Wheat, Larkin and Thomson deliver well written dialogue. Satirical comments are hilarious and perfectly timed by a straight faced Larkin. Thomson competently aids the subliminal stand up routine.
The benefit of doubt is explored with intense interactions between the sisters. This builds suspense and the sense that the whole situation will explode at any moment. The comic one liners are perfect stress point relief for the audience.
Sister Aloysius may be hard and rigid and yet has such a wickedly wonderful sense of humour, bringing a humane element to her character. She employs Sister James to guide the ill sighted Sister Veronica when descending the grounds steps. The audience connects with her and feel compassion for her plight.
Humphris is perfectly cast. He plays the sweet faced humble and charming Father Flynn with all the charisma of a snake. At the meeting, the Father strikes out at her allegations. His actions confirms Sister Aloysius’ doubt.
Regardless of Sister Aloysius’ negative views of him, Father Flynn’s ambitious talents, plays upon our doubt. He preaches a follow up fable depicting the hazards of gossip.
Tariro Mavondo plays Mrs Muller, a convincing mother of the troubled student connected to Father Flynn. She attends a meeting with Sister Aloysius dressed in a pink and white houndstooth coat and a pill box hat.
Her costume takes your mind back to the 1960s and life in that era. When there appears to be no inkling of the truth in Father Flynn’s story, Mrs Muller is the linch pin.
Doubt goes beyond religion and examines human nature. A frank look at established belief systems under the constraints of hierarchy and institution. Quotes of “heretics”, “evil” and “kindness” are thrashed about in the Principal’s office, alter and courtyard.
Fortunately, Mavondo’s American accent was as genuine as her attire. The public affairs addressed in this story could have been situated in any country. The mishaps in any pronunciation is readily excused by the outstanding performance of all players.
The play-over, sounds of a church organ in the opening scene, drowned out some of the Father’s sermon. An unexpected opening night technical glitch which was quickly rectified.
The minimalist set in The Loft at Chapel off Chapel was more than adequate. There is so much room for movement in this wonderful story to pique the interest of the audience and persuade you to change your mind. If in doubt- Make a choice and see this play.
Photographer: Simon Fitzpatrick