Temple, Loft Theatre, Leamington, March 13-18
In a world where the media is dominated by Brexit, Trump and false news, it is hard to remember those heady days of 2011 when worldwide anti-austerity protestors were
campaigning against the banks and globalisation, and the Occupy London movement brought about the closure of St Paul's Cathedral - something even the London Blitz had failed to do.
The anti-capitalist protestors, trying to target the stock exchange, were corralled by the
police into the square in front of the cathedral, setting the scene for Steve Water’s play,
Temple, about the impact of this on the cathedral hierarchy. Although the play is fictional it is based on the carefully researched true events, and provides the audience with the opportunity to see the situation from alternative viewpoints.
Do the church leaders support the protestors? Or do they join the city authorities in trying to clear them away so they can reopen the cathedral?
The play takes us behind the closed doors of the cathedral Chapter House where power, integrity and moral dilemmas are tussled over.
The play opens to the sounds of the protest outside the cathedral. The beleaguered Dean, played admirably by Phil Reynolds (pictured above) who adopts a suitably tortured, churchy persona reminiscent of Derek Nimmo, is anxious to resume worship. However, the canon chancellor, played with passion by Michael Barker, is on the side of the protestors.
Kate Willis as the verger is the personification of the Conservative Party at prayer, refering to the crowd as “moronic and unwashed” and invoking the memory of Mrs T.
Cathryn Bowler is a lawyer representing the City of London looking to take legal action
against the protestors, but challenged by the new PA , played by Elizabeth Morris, who at first is flappy and inexperienced, but develops into a powerful voice for the disposessed 1 per cent as the play progresses.
The thought-provoking piece questions the position of the church in modern society with all its unfairness and inequality, and inevitably there is more dialogue than action.
But about a third of the way in it catches fire as the debate heats up.
WHAT DID YOU THINK OF TEMPLE?
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Barbara Goulden: Steve Waters' Temple didn't quite deliver all I wanted.
While fascinating to understand the struggles going on within the inner sanctum of St Paul's, I had hoped to see some of the rabble-rousers from outside shouting their way on to the stage.
Everybody - except perhaps the bankers - knew the cause outside was just. The Dean knew it but felt his first duty was to the visitors, worshippers and the very fabric of the church.
The left-leaning Canon Chancellor knew it - and so resigned dramatically. Even the Bishop of London was not unsympathetic, just scared of being sued on health and safety grounds.
Phil Reynolds, Michael Barker and Jeremy Heynes make a fine job of the arguments but I was much more taken by flashy Cathryn Bowler in her role as the lawyer representing the City. Cathryn's well-known to Coventry audiences at the Criterion Theatre and obviously relished this part, as did Elizabeth Morris, as the Dean's not-so-ditsy personal assistant.
Finally it was left to verger Kate Willis to offer a little calm and introduce the beguiling singing of two choirboys from All Saints, over the road - Will Parsons and Henry Taylor Lucas.
But I still wanted to hear something of the ire of protestors like the once infamous Swampy.
And a short interval might have been welcome.
Peter McGarry: There are no pat answers to the problems facing the Dean, the Bishop and the Canon Chancellor, but Sue Moore’s subtle direction and a splendid set of actors enable us to understand their frustrations.
Although the protest issue is not even concerned with religion, the unanswerable question revolves around which side deserves the true moral right of resolution. The agony of the dilemma is revealed in another stunning performance by Phil Reynolds whose Dean readily admits his own lack of leadership flair but holds fast to his self-belief.
Battering at his sensibility are Michael Barker’s strongly rebellious Canon Chancellor and Jeremy Heynes’s fluffy, old-school Bishop.These characters are vividly brought to life, along with the others caught in the crossfire, and delivered in style by Kate Willis and Cathryn Bowler. On the fringe of the clergy clashes, there is delicious work from Elizabeth Morris whose portrayal of an eager-to-please PA prompts memories of the great Joyce Grenfell. And Richard Moore’s stately Chapter House set design stamps its authority with lasting effect.
Di Griffiths: The play was absolutely superb. I saw it twice and now have a better understanding of the situation and dilemmas surrounding the Dean. All the cast acted their socks off and I was constantly waiting for the reappearance of Lizzie (played by Elizabeth Morris) who had the audience in hysterics. She is such a beautiful character and provided light relief in the midst of wordy and serious dialogue. Don’t be fooled by Lizzie’s dippy exterior, she’s the clever one who tries at the end of the play to show the Dean the two sides of himself – the one pushed by God and himself as a human man with similar humane feelings as most of us. However, torn between his feelings and what he should do, the Dean goes to the side of the City of London, much to Lizzie’s disbelief.
By the way, if the protestors had burst on to stage that would be a new play! Steve Waters hasn’t written it yet! This is about what happened within the four walls of the Chapter House, with the protestors outside merely a reminder of the situation.
Well done Sue Moore for a brilliant play and cast.