The Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond – again – this time for DOUBT, a play by John Patrick Shanley which I originally watched (twice) as a film. It started life as a stage production (it won the Pulitzer prize) before Hollywood got hold of it and cast Meryl Streep as Sister Aloysius and Philip Seymour Hoffman as the charismatic priest whom she suspects (with no firm evidence, but a terrifying confidence in her own intuition) of sexually abusing an altar boy.
As a film, rather than a theatre, fan, and as someone who could watch Meryl Streep reading the phone book and still be entranced, I approached the play with expectations just above floor level. A tiny set – a desk, two chairs and a pulpit – and a cast of four  actors I’d never even heard of, did nothing to lift my spirits. So my surprise was magnified a thousand-fold when it turned out to be one of the most gripping and powerful productions I’ve seen.
Clap Trap Productions (its website gives details of the cast and plays, but says little about itself as a company, which is a shame) did a superb job: the writing, direction (by Gareth Jenkins), set design – everything was pared to the bone: a supreme example of less being more. As the suspicions of Sister Aloysius (Cal Stockbridge) grow and her consequent mental pursuit of Father Flynn (brilliantly played by Simon Waley) intensifies, his confident demeanour crumbles, and the man whose personality and joie de vivre has dominated the stage, shrinks into himself in front of our eyes. It’s an extraordinary performance.
So – did he do it? Did he sexually abuse the vulnerable and innocent boy who idolises him? The more I see it, the more I think that to ask that simplistic question is actually to miss the point. The play invites us, instead, through a fine and multi-layered narrative, to reflect on issues of exploitation, both sexual and emotional, faith, morality, authority, homosexuality, compassion and human frailty.
It’s a play that follows you home. Ian and I – very different people, with different interests and often diametrically opposed perspectives on life (he an atheistic church lover, me a Christian non-attender) – are still talking about it three days later. This amazing theatre company is restricted, as far as I can see, to taking it only to Northern venues: Richmond was its opening night. Which is a shame: it deserves a much wider audience. But if you can’t get to the play (see the website for dates and venues) go for second best and get the DVD. Either way you won’t be disappointed.



  1. Thanks Betsy must try to see this., In many senses still reeling from watching the film on DVD with you so if this in any way matches that it will be a great!! or at least a challenging evening out and you, knowing my pedigree, understand the challenge and the test or doubt of faith.

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