Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

doubt head


The Highbury Players

Highbury Theatre Centre


SEXUAL abuse within the Catholic Church seems a hot subject these days. Not a sentence I ever dreamed of starting a review with, but true nonetheless.

Full marks, then, to The Highbury Players for both their timing and their decision to stage a play that will undoubtedly sit uneasily with some members of the Catholic persuasion.

John Patrick Shanley’s brave exposition of the goings on inside a New York Church School in the early 1960s highlights what many have suspected for years

In recent times, more and more people have come forward to report serious abuse by individuals or organisations that had previously hidden behind the belief that they were beyond the law. The Catholic Church was no exception.

Brian Hills’s simply staged production allows the dialogue to tFlynn and Beauvoirake centre stage. It's very much a play that requires an audience to listen and digest the often lengthy exchanges. There is a danger, of course, that to make the action so minimal it almost becomes a live radio play. Nuns discussing serious issues on a bench for more than ten minutes may well be central to the plot, but any more than that would even test the patience of the most avid Call The Midwife viewer. Thankfully, there is a crucial balance between movement and dialogue here that keeps the pace alive and the audience engaged.  

Robert Hicks as the sinister Father Flynn and Valerie Tomlinson as Sister Aloyisius Beauvoir

Malcolm Robertshaw’s set is appropriately uncluttered and functional. Projected backdrops of Catholic imagery add colour and context as well as filling scene change time. Whilst the surrounding may be simple and appropriate, the intentions of one particular priest within these holy walls are certainly not.

Robert Hicks exudes a creeping menace as Father Brendan Flynn, a dangerous man hiding behind the perceived respectability of his holy order. Hicks portrayal is measured and increasingly sinister as the play goes on.

Valerie Tomlinson brings a respectable authority in the role of Sister  the head of the school who is brave and big enough to bring a dark secret into the open. It's not simply a school ‘staffing problem’ she is exposing, it's an endemic crisis within an established, worldwide institution. A lot of weight on her troubled shoulders.

In what is her first stage performance, Ciara O’Sullivan makes an impressive debut as the young, impressionable Sister James.  Much more to come, it would seem, if this is her first outing.

Sandra McDonald brings real emotion as Mrs Muller, the mother of the boy suspected of being abused. Her dilemma is made clear. Upset as she is about what is happening, she is afraid to rock the boat and of the consequences that might follow if she made a complaint.

The scene between Muller and Sister Beauvoir is, for me, the strongest in the play.

There are tweaks to be made, of course. Accents sometimes falter, pace could be speeded up and some of the sound cues could be re-worked. But these are minor in what is mostly a polished piece of theatre.

This is a challenging, potentially uncomfortable piece of writing that addresses a very real and ongoing issue. Well staged, and well acted - it may not be a message you want to hear but it’s certainly a play you should see. To 19-03-16

Tom Roberts


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