REVIEW: Racing Demon, Crucible, Sheffield - VIDEO

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PRIESTS, like actors, rarely enjoy performing to empty rows. So when revved up young reverend Tony Ferris seeks to pack ’em in with his word of god it shouldn’t be a problem.

Except three very different dog collars have seen their roles shaped by compromise in an ancient and tainted institution floundering in a society with 1990s issues. Tony, an engaging, energetic Jamie Parker, is dynamic and passionate to the point of obsessive instability and at the expense of his practical, knowing girlfriend and complacent colleagues.

Racing Demon.  Jamie Parker (kneeling ) Malclom Sinclair (standing).

Racing Demon. Jamie Parker (kneeling ) Malclom Sinclair (standing).

Among other things this second play in the David Hare season confirms that simply believing/promoting a “super natural being” isn’t enough in an inner city parish with tangible economic and social handicaps; sometimes we and vicars need more than a spiritual comfort blanket.

While it might be accepted as a priest “you have a duty to put on a show” Tony’s drive has him branded as “a combustible curate developing an evangelical tilt” by underfire Revs Lionel Espy (a flawlessly earnest Malcolm Sinclair), the amusingly simple Donald ‘Streaky’ Bacon (dealt perfectly by Matthew Cottle) and tabloid-hounded gay vicar Harry Henderson (a warm Ian Gelder).

Jonathan Coy and Mark Tandy are also instinctively cast as leaders in a church haunted by the prospect of women bishops.

Daniel Evans’ direction utilises the main stage acreage by way of a frugal set against an omnipresent but shrewdly-lit church window-style background as his cast often communicate across sparseness, a metaphor maybe for the gulf between clergy and public, doctrine and practicality. A single spotlight in the dark emphasises the vulnerability of individual prayers propelled near dutifully into the ether.

The wrangles and conflicts, both personal and social, remain hugely relevant and Hare’s frequently witty script informed to the point of educational polemic. As a piece of entertainment Racing Demon arguably struggles to thrill. As an emotive examination of church faultlines amid human failings it thrives. Runs until March 5.