REVIEW: Rounded characters and sympathetic points of view in David Hare’s Racing Demon

Racing Demon, Holy Trinity Church, Cuckfield

Cuckfield’s Holy Trinity Church proved an atmospheric setting for Cuckfield Dramatic Society’s production of David Hare’s Racing Demon.

The stage-hands, draped in red cassocks, effected the many scene changes with sepulchral diligence, while skilful spotlighting picked out characters emerging and disappearing into the shadowy depths of the chancel, overlooked by angels. One waited with bated breath as the impassioned prayers uttered by main characters swept to the lofty heights.

“Is that all?” An incredulous Stella Marr (Samantha Oliver) has been bullied into an abortion and sent for counsel with Rev. Lionel Espy (Laurence Leng).

In the face of such suffering the sincere and weary priest can offer only a prayer as comfort. Fresh to Lionel’s South London team ministry, newly ordained curate Rev. Tony Ferris (Paul Ruse) is unimpressed. To his mind Stella needs positive help – surely this is the way to win new converts?

Rounded characters and sympathetic points of view in the world of the Church of England hierarchy build to a compelling denouement. Endearing Rev. ‘Streaky’ Bacon (Alan Carter), who narrated a memorable tipsy soliloquy on his awe at the overwhelming love of God, and Rev. Harry Henderson (Paul Davey) try to temper the Curate’s evangelistic zeal, while the Bishop of Southwark (Philip Robinson) is looking for an excuse to oust Lionel.

Exhausted with the day-to-day problems of his three run-down Parishes and doubts as to his own conviction, Lionel struggles to hold on to his job. He looks for comfort, not to his put-upon wife Heather (Chrys Tarr) but to Tony’s ex-girlfriend Frances (Kirsty Bishop). The Bishop of Kingston (Bill Colbourne) is apologetically circumspect with his support, and Rev. Harry has his own problems with a leery tabloid journalist (Peter Bowman) picking up on his friendship with homosexual Ewan (Andy Squires).

Congratulations to director Jim Knight for a well-judged and thought provoking experience!