Donmar Warehouse, London
Well, this isn’t at all what I was expecting from Steve Waters whose The Contingency Plan about global warming remains one of the most cogent and dramatically realised responses to environmental issues.
Temple takes us back to the occupation of St Paul’s churchyard in 2011 by the anti-capitalist Occupy London movement. The site and the issues pitted Anglicanism’s most iconic national church against calls for economic and global reform. How would the Church, whose credo was built on giving succour to the poorest, respond?
In the event, not well. But against expectation Waters looks with a not unkindly eye on its moral and spiritual dilemmas, in particular at The Dean of St Paul’s (named only as The Dean) and on the whole, gives him the benefit of the doubt.
Played by Simon Russell Beale with typical persuasion, it’s hard not to find one’s sympathies swinging towards a man criticised for lack of spiritual leadership on the one hand, threatened on the other by the forces of capitalism in the shape of a snappily dressed female lawyer from the Corporation of the City of London – who finds himself only too failing, although later referred to as `the rock’ of the institution.
But it’s symptomatic of Temple’s confusing stance that this is less an exploration of the political and economic arguments raging between protesters and the capitalist Establishment than matters spiritual and temporal, conscience and faith – the arguments for the protestors unsatisfactorily being put at second hand through the mouthpiece of the Dean’s temporary PA, the quirky, eccentric Lizzie.
Even Giles Fraser, the then Canon Chancellor who resigned over the issue is represented here as opportunist and reluctant rebel rather than principled advocate. But then, in a careful caveat, we’re told the play is only `inspired’ by those events; it’s a `fictional’ account!
Apart from the Dean, Waters’ surrounding figures remain sketchy, emblematic and it’s left to the wonderful Anna Calder-Marshall as the Church Virger and Malcolm Sinclair as the Bishop of London (another surprisingly sympathetic portrayal of a far from sympathetic figure) to provide additional, sardonic if peripheral ballast.
Ultimately, Temple turns out to be disappointing if momentarily entertaining.
Temple runs at the Donmar Warehouse to July 25
First published in Reviewsgate, June 2015