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Posts Tagged ‘Occupy’

You might not expect 100 minutes real time set entirely in a church office to be enthralling theatre, but it is. Steve Waters intelligent play about the dilemma facing the Dean of St. Paul’s when the Occupy protesters are driven to his church steps captivates from beginning to end and Simon Russell Beale gives us yet another master-class in acting.

The 100 minutes are those immediately before the church is re-opened for services after a two-week closure. The protesters had been driven there away from the target of their ire. The Corporation of London wants the Dean’s support in driving them away altogether by an injunction. The church hierarchy, through the Bishop of London, has no direct authority over St. Paul’s but still seeks to influence it. Some of the Dean’s senior staff feel strongly, at least one to the point of resignation. His PA has gone sick with stress and her cover is seemingly incompetent. The Dean is in an impossible situation and struggles to find a solution and to show leadership.

So much is covered in this short period of time. We learn of the special status of St. Paul’s and the history that puts it there. We see the differing views within the church, varying from logic to pragmatism to principled to passive. The debate that is played out covers the moral and ethical and the practical and expedient. Surrounded by those giving advice, The Dean is in a very lonely place. The Bishop makes it clear what the Archbishop wants, the City Lawyer uses her legalistic jargon to spell out where the Corporation sits. His staff think they know what Jesus would do and the PA proves to be wiser than it seemed at first.

Though its a fiction it feels very real and I kept wondering how much research Waters had done. Howard Davies direction is impeccable, allowing the writing and performances to shine, and Tim Hatley’s realistic design and the Donmar’s intimacy make you voyeurs peering into the room. Simon Russell Beale is perfect casting as the Dean, a very sympathetically written character, and he gives a beautiful, nuanced portrait of a man under pressure, on an emotional roller-coaster, struggling as his conscience and his brain battle within him.

I loved Malcolm Sinclair’s rather pompous Bishop of London who’d taken advice ‘from his communications people’ and was very much in tune with ‘the modern world’ and I thought Rebecca Humphries was superb as the PA Lizzie, moving from dippy temp to show wisdom and passion as she too tries to influence The Dean. There’s also a terrific cameo from Shereen Martin, who perfectly captures the legal eagle blinded by logic but so lacking in emotional intelligence that she would know a moral dilemma if she fell over one.

I was entranced by this gentle, often funny, thought-provoking play and have been reflecting on it ever since. A candidate for Best New Play I’d say. Off you go…..

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I broke my ‘no monologues’ resolution on the first day of the New Year. This time (for it has happened before) enticed by the playwright (Tim Price, responsible for National Theatre Wales’ out-of-town 2013 highlight The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning), the actor (Rhys Ifans, not on our stages often enough) and the subject matter (Occupy London, something that captured both my imagination and my heart). As it turns out, a resolution well worth breaking.

Danny is a rough sleeper whose world is turned upside-down when Occupy turn his nighttime spot at St. Paul’s into a bloody great big protest camp. At first angry (he pisses on their tents), he eventually becomes drawn in – first taking advantage of the hospitality of their canteen, then participating in the work of the kitchen, building relationships with protestors and enjoying the company as well as the food, As the camp becomes more of a society, Danny becomes more of an outcast and his resentment rises.

Ifans prowls around the bare black space talking directly to the audience, collectively and individually. It stirs a whole host of emotions in you – sympathy, anger, repulsion, hopelessness, fear…..The mood is lightened by some of our interactions, most notably an audience rendition of The Twelve Days of Christmas where the things brought by ‘the system’ include two racist policemen and a vote in a democracy, and five gold rings becomes Boris is a c*** The levity is cut off halfway through and the play turns towards it’s coup d’theatre ending.

I hope Ifans won’t mind me saying that he doesn’t have to do much to get the look of Danny, but he goes way beyond the look, inhabits this character and conveys his loss, regret, rage and disillusionment. We learn about the lives of the rough sleepers as well as the characters and motives of the protesters. The play is no homage to Occupy and your attitude to rough sleepers is more likely to change (positively) than your views of Occupy. I can’t get rid of that ‘that could be me’ feeling and the change in me was visible a matter of minutes later as I passed a rough sleeper on the way to Waterloo station.

So my theatrical 2014 starts with a broken resolution, but also with a stimulating, challenging and thought-provoking hour that I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

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