(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 5/28.)
“In a good play,” said the German dramatist Friedrich Hebbel, “everyone is right.” And the fascination of Steve Waters’ play about the impact of the Occupy London movement on the clerical hierarchy of St Paul’s is that it sees all points of view. Intellectually, you feel it is on the side of the anti-capitalist protesters. Emotionally, it shows unusual sympathy for the beleaguered dean, played with exquisite finesse by Simon Russell Beale. Waters’ play is fiction, based on carefully researched fact. It is set very specifically on the morning of October 28, 2011, when the cathedral, after a week’s closure because of the protestors, is about to re-open. The dean is simply anxious to resume worship. But he is beset on all sides by problems. The canon chancellor, sympathetic to the Occupy movement, noisily resigns, the verger feels the building is unready, and the temporising bishop of London still holds out hope of reaching some accord with the protesters. But the big issue is whether the dean should support the City of London in its plan to evict those who’ve set up their tents outside the cathedral.