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

Compelling way to remove doubt


Grange Players

Grange Playhouse, Walsall


THE one-word title bestrides John Patrick Shanley's story of a Catholic school in New York's Bronx and it reminds us of its presence right up to the climactic end.

The fearsome Sister Aloysious, the school principal, has no doubt at all that Father Flynn has been behaving inappropriately with a 12-year-old black boy. 

Father Flynn has no doubt that he is completely innocent. The young Sister James is equally positive of his innocence but hesitant to proclaim it in the face of her superior. And the boy's mother, Mrs Muller, is simply certain that she wants he son to have a good education, whatever the circumstances.

Something, somewhere, has to give, and it happens after we have watched the pressures mounting and when the last moments of the action arrive and make it clear that the doubt is still there. This is a fine piece of drama and it reassuringly safe in the hands of a strong and generally confident cast.

Most of the action takes place in the principal's office, where a statue of the Sacred Heart stands atop a nest of two dozen pigeonholes and where Sister Aloysious is accustomed to reigning supreme and unquestioned. She has no evidence for her accusation. She doesn't feel she needs it. She explains that she goes with certainty, not proof, and she will do what needs to be done.


Sister Aloysious (Claire Armstrong Mills) is the toughest of cookies, whose authority and discipline are not to be cowed by the challenge from humanity and compassion, or swayed by the protestations of the unworldly Sister James (Abi Quiney). The priest has got to go, and she is not averse, as she says, to making up little things to illustrate any point she wants to make.

The inevitable confrontation comes after the interval and it is superbly handled in Paul Viles's compelling production, with the principal and the priest (Robert Laird) at one point doing verbal battle almost nose-to-nose across her desk.

It is Robert Laird who has opened the drama by delivering an assured sermon from his pulpit, and he builds unwaveringly on this excellent start as he seeks to stop the character assassination by holy steamroller with which he is faced.

Claire Armstrong Mills, though prey to momentary first-night hesitation late-on, delivers a performance befitting Sister Aloysious's block-of-ice reputation and makes the most of the occasional line that comes her way as an unexpected lightener for the general tension that she generates.

Michelle Black, as Mrs Muller, springs a surprise with the implacable confidence with which her character responds to her summons to the principal's office. This, and the way in which she expresses her attitude to the mounting scandal, provide an unexpected twist to an absorbing evening.

It is left to Abi Quiney, scurrying about, head-down, to offer an air of anxious innocence against the small but turbulent world with which she is surrounded, and she achieves this quite splendidly. To 19.03.11.

John Slim 


Meanwhile no doubt here . . .


THE serious allegations levelled against Catholic priests from past years have frequently hit the headlines, in recent times, and this brilliant play gives an insight into how mere suspicions can have a dreadful effect on a seemingly innocent man's career.

Charismatic Father Flynn is trying to bring a modern approach to life at St Nicholas RC School in The Bronx, but his attempts to offer special help to the first black pupil lead to a clash with the principal, Sister Aloysious, a hard-as-nails disciplinarian.

She in convinced there is an improper relationship between the priest and the boy pupil, who has parental problems at home, although there appears to be little evidence to support her fears.

Claire Armstrong Mills gives a superb performance as the icy Sister Aloysious, and her exchanges with Father Flynn and the 12-year-old boy's mother, Mrs Muller, are gripping throughout.

Robert Laird is totally convincing in the role of the tortured priest, his occasional sermons from a pulpit in a corner of the stage adding a dash of realism to the drama, while Abi Quiney, playing the young Nun school teacher Sister James, and Michelle Black (Mrs Muller) make splendid contributions.

The play, written by John Patrick Shanley - himself expelled from two schools as a boy - is impressively directed by Paul Viles who also designed the excellent set. Produced by Rosemary Manjunath, Doubt continues to stretch the audience's judgment qualities until Saturday night 19.03.11

Paul Marston 

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