Modern classic Doubt on the Chichester stage

A year after it should have hit the stage, Chichester Festival Theatre’s production of Doubt: A Parable by John Patrick Shanley is set to run from January 22-February 5.

Monica Dolan
Monica Dolan

Monica Dolan, who stars alongside Sam Spruell, is delighted at the thought of it.

“Last year I think I had got as far as having a dialect session and that was all. But I’d done my own work. I had been given some exercises to go through the text and I’d done quite a bit of that so of course it was disappointing when it was all postponed but I think of the mentality that I got myself in. I had experienced a lot of disappointments. It’s theatre and it was upsetting but you have to get it into perspective in terms of everything else that was happening in the world. And I did other things instead that were very exciting.

“I was in the Talking Heads on TV, the new versions. and I was in one that had never been performed before. The head of drama at BBC asked Nick Hytner to work on the ones that had already been done and asked if there were any more and then Nick suddenly remembered that Alan Bennett had brought him around a new Talking Head a few years earlier and said to Nick did he think he might be able to do something with it, and Nick had said at the time that he didn’t think he had anywhere for it. And then he remembered that it existed and that was the one that Sarah Lancashire did and the one that I did, The Shrine, was underneath it.

“We did them in the massive EastEnders studio stage at Elstree where everybody could stay two metres apart. And the lead-up to the filming was extraordinary. I had to do all my hair and make-up myself under the guidance of an Oscar winning make-up designer standing in the doorway. I had to have costume fittings in my house on Zoom and then I remember driving to Elstree studio having to have a letter with me saying that I was a key worker for that day in case I was stopped by the police. You have to remember at the time there was no testing and no vaccinations. But it was great to do.

“But the whole pandemic was devastating for me because right at the beginning of the pandemic my brother died of it. He died of Covid and pneumonia and he was only 56 and had no underlying health conditions but he had still been going into work and I was just furious with the government for not locking things down earlier.

“Personally for me and my family we went through an awful lot but actually workwise I don’t think I have had a better time. The work has been pared back in terms of style which is something that really suits me, things like Talking Heads and talking straight to camera.”

But now comes the stage again, the production of Doubt which should have been this time last year.

Set in 1960s New York, Doubt is the gripping portrayal of the clash between two compelling characters.

School principal Sister Aloysius Beauvier is wedded to tradition and unafraid to fight for her beliefs while the basketball-playing priest and teacher Father Brendan Flynn is liberal-minded and charismatic. As mutual suspicion mounts, their actions become an epic battle of wills from which no one will emerge unscathed; but where does the truth lie?

Monica is Sister Aloysius: “I think she is the most extraordinary character. The characters in the play have agendas and perspectives which are absolutely poles apart. She is very much old school and she comes across as very strict but I feel very defensive of her. She can be perceived as being cold but what I see is that she feels very, very differently to others, that there are children and there are adults and that they are separate. And what comes across is that morally she is trying to care for the children. The nuns had an awful lot of responsibility and for me what she is doing is creating a safe space for the children.”