I’m not a great lover of political or religious plays and Temple concerns both. Its saving grace for me is that it stars Simon Russell Beale, who, as is to be expected, is marvellous in the role of The Dean.
Temple, written by Steve Waters, is an imagining of what went on behind the scenes in St. Pauls during the Occupy London protests of 2011. It highlights the emotional and constitutional crisis that went on within the solid walls of this iconic cathedral.
The Dean, the Right Reverend Graeme Knowles is sympathetically portrayed by the great Mr. Beale. At the time, he was severely criticised for closing the cathedral, albeit briefly, and also for taking the side of the London Corporation against the camp. His actions caused the resignation of the “right on” Canon Chancellor, as played here by Paul Higgins.
The play takes places on the morning of the 28th October with the cathedral about to re-open. Set in the Chapter House, the designer Tim Hatley captures the majesty of the building at the heart of the story by having it loom up behind the huge upstage windows. With tom toms beating away in the background, the scene is set to great effect. Simon Russell Beale’s Dean is in crisis. Anxious to re-open the church for worship, he is surrounded by problems on all sides. His resigning Canon Chancellor is not going quietly, the female Verger (Anna Calder-Marshall) is concerned that the building isn’t ready, whilst Malcolm Sinclair’s lofty Bishop, although sympathetic, is hopeful of reaching some sort of agreement with the protestors. Added to this, he has a new, young and not altogether finger on the pulse, personal assistant (Rebecca Humphries). Also, and more importantly, he is under pressure from the City of London to evict the protestors. Not a great start to the day. Mr. Beale does a wonderful job, as not only does he show the isolation the Dean feels, but also determines that his initial unsympathetic character eventually elicits our sympathy. We truly believe he is a man of the cloth, communing with his maker during his many active silences.
Steve Waters has written a thought provoking play which highlights aspects of the “occupation” of which I was unaware. However I do find it hard to believe that the Dean would end up listening to the pearls of wisdom his new PA has to offer seeing as how she appears so dim witted at the start. It is to Rebecca Humphries credit that she does just manage to change from gawky useless to authoritative voice. I could also have done without the contrivance of bringing on two choir boys towards the end, even though they did sing beautifully.
As usual, Howard Davies does a great job in directing a tightly controlled production with more than a hint of humour, especially when Malcolm Sinclair is centre stage.