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BWW Review: RACING DEMON, Theatre Royal Bath

BWW Review: RACING DEMON, Theatre Royal Bath 3 stars

On the face of it, David Hare's state-of-the-nation play Racing Demon should be fruit ripe for the picking. However, in this latest production from Jonathan Church (in his first summer season as Artistic Director at Bath Theatre Royal) it struggles to feel as vibrant and relevant as it once might have, despite a superb cast.

The play centres on Lionel Espy, a priest in a tough inner-London parish. In the twilight of his career, he has become jaded as he struggles to understand God's absence in the face of the social problems he sees all around him. Lionel is shook up by his new evangelical curate, Tony, who is all blood and thunder, wanting to right every wrong with the power of Christ.

What Hare manages successfully in the play, is to weave a huge variety of fractious relationships together to paint a picture of an historic institution on the precipice as it peers over the edge into 21st century England. From the Bishop who is shocked by the mere idea of women in the church to simple questions of attendance on a Sunday, there are divisions at every level.

However, it's difficult to care about it's future as an institution, probably more now than in 1990 when the play premiered, as it becomes increasingly side-lined in public life. The play is at it's most successful when it poses the question of how the church might help those in need and at it's least when pontificating over the importance of the sacraments.

David Haig underlines his status as one of our great stage actors in a wonderfully muted performance as mild-mannered Lionel. He deals well with the inner-turmoil and calm exterior. Ian Gelder returns to a role he has played before as Harry, a gay priest threatened with an exposé by a tabloid hack and captures a wonderful self -assurance. Rising star Paapa Essiedu turns in a credible performance as radical curate Tony.

Church has created a slick production that moves with great fluidity and builds nicely throughout. I just couldn't shake my own feeling that as state-of-the-nation plays go, this one, much like the Church of England, is losing it's relevance.

Photo credit: Nobby Clark

Racing Demon at Theatre Royal Bath until 8 July


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