The cast of Second Temple take a bowSophie Stemmons with permission for Varsity

The actors made their way into the crowded room to find a buzzing audience anticipating their first lines. Rachel (Alix Addinall) proceeds to leave the most painstakingly awkward and hilarious series of voicemails to her boss explaining that she was off for Hanukkah. I started laughing instantly and didn’t stop.

“More than anything this revealed to me that Sophie Stemmons’ writing is very strong”

This surprised me, for I was watching a rehearsed reading of a new play in development; the actors had scripts in hand, were confined to a tiny space and had minimal lighting and sound to enhance the performance. More than anything this revealed to me that Sophie Stemmons’ writing is very strong. Her play tells the tale of a Jewish family gathering on Hanukkah just after the death of the family patriarch, and uses the conversations they have over a few days around the dinner table to explore generational tensions, immigrant culture and the family’s attempts to recover their fading Jewishness.

It found meaning in the most absurd of places; Rachel confides in her cousin Bathsheba (Katya Stylianou) that whilst trying to masturbate she ended up crying as a result of the staged intimacy at the end of the porn she was watching. Rachel, so starved of intimacy, craves the simplest pleasure, like having her hair stroked. Simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking, we are presented with a damning example of humanity’s hyper-consumption and the internet’s role in our distortion of, well, everything. There was a subtleness to the absurdity too. A father named David (Jake Burke) has a daughter named Bathsheba; the Biblical David committed adultery with Bathsheba, conceived a child with her and killed her husband. The notion that a Jewish man, almost certainly named after and with knowledge of the Biblical David, should name his daughter Bathsheba is a perfect example of this family’s dysfunction.

“We are presented with a damning example of humanity’s hyper-consumption and the internet’s role in our distortion of, well, everything”

I was lucky enough to chat to the playwright after the reading. After asking Sophie how it felt to hear an audience laugh at her jokes for the first time she told me that the past two hours were the most stressful of her life, but that it was also an incredible feeling seeing her creation come alive. She said she had purposefully distanced herself from the process of putting it together by not attending some rehearsals and emphasising to the actors that they should bring their own ideas and interpretation to the piece. I know lots of creatives struggle with this; they have an intricate vision of how their creation will be realised and cannot bear to place it into the hands of others. But Sophie trusted her team, and it paid off. In their hands, her characters had individual depth, heightened by allowing each actor to bring their own experiences and ideas to the process.

Sophie did a very commendable job of introducing a variety of themes, such as the emptiness of modern life and generational trauma, and letting them linger briefly before moving on. The characters’ lives are too hectic, only escalated by their familial tensions, to spend vast amounts of time creating metaphysical propositions and discussing life’s meaning. These themes can exist, only briefly in their frantic lives. The immediate realities and struggles of everyday life take over, not allowing for a full exploration of said themes and this play recognised that. The acute and piercing portrayal of the struggle to create meaning within the frenzied realities of everyday life gave this production both its hilarity and its depth.


Mountain View

Advertising faces the music in Jingle Street

Second Temple has the potential to be incredible. In particular I would love to see the characters be able to use a full stage to get the most out of the awkwardness that arises from this family get-together (which we have all, no doubt, felt ourselves). I felt privileged to be a part of the creative process, to be able to watch this reading unfold and chat to Sophie. I sincerely hope that Sophie, and all the actors and director, are given the opportunity to bring it to the stage properly and if that does happen I will be there, front row, ready to see what more they have found in this script.

Second Temple played at the ADC Larkum Studio on Thursday 25th May at 8pm.