Doubt introduces us to two young journalists, Holly and Nathan, who are trying to do meaningful work in a business that increasingly values speed and clickbait over well researched and thought-provoking articles. Their editor keeps harassing them to work faster, increase their internet following and even to just “make it up” when the real facts aren’t deemed sexy enough. Nathan is too overwhelmed by the 24 hour news cycle to write anything while Holly, just starting out in her career, is naively focussing on the Good Friday Agreement as an example of a perfect solution to a problem. Holly likes perfect solutions. It soothes her OCD, or “Pure O” which is what the disorder is called when it manifests mainly as obsessive and intrusive thoughts, without the compulsive behaviours used to ward them off.
Grace Millie clearly has a lot to say and she’s got the talent to say it with wit and verve
Writer and performer Grace Millie has said that she wanted to write about OCD without having the issue overpower the narrative or being the only definitive feature of the character suffering from it. This is commendable as people with any kind of mental illness, as well as anyone else that doesn’t fit into society’s very narrow frame of ‘normal’, often have to fight to be seen as three dimensional human beings that are more than just their ‘abnormality’. However, Millie’s attempt to fold Holly’s OCD into the narrative without making it the main plot point often serves to diminish the effect of the play, as too many ideas and ‘issues’ wrestle for the audience’s attention and the moment Holly admits to her diagnosis loses its power. A TV screen continually clues us in to what’s going on in Holly’s head with all the ugly and intrusive thoughts in red, counteracted by the real truth of the situation in white. It’s harrowing, watching the constant tear-down occurring in Holly’s mind while outwardly she struggles to maintain the facade of ‘ńormal’ but once she’s told her co-worker what’s going on the script wears dangerously close to offering tone-deaf, pat solutions on how to ‘fix her’.
Thrown in with Holly’s struggles are Nathan’s apathy for his job and the constant pressure he’s under from his almost cartoonishly self-centered editor to engage new and younger readers. The two journalists also uncover evidence of a conspiracy in the British government to cover up a massacre in Northern-Ireland. That’s a lot of interesting subjects to cover in an hour and the show would be better served to focus more on one or two instead of all of them.
Because as a writer, Millie clearly has a lot to say and she’s got the talent to say it with wit and verve. Doubt is well written, its characters believable and the dialogue sparkles with sweetly sardonic jokes and pokes at society. All three performers expertly make the words sing and their energy is infectious. Doubt is a funny and thought-provoking piece of theatre from emerging talent, although it would have been interesting to see what they could do with a more focussed approach.