Thurs 23rd - Sat 25th November & Tues 28th November - Sat 2nd December 2000
Directed by Peter Corrigan
"Quite simply drama at its athletic and magisterial best" (Sunday Times). In a Church of England torn with internal dissension on matters of doctrine and practice, four clergymen struggle to make sense of their mission in South London.
'Racing Demon' was written in 1990 and premiered that same year at the National Theatre. The play takes place in South London in 1992, a time when the Church of England was in turmoil over the ordination of women and in trouble with the Tory government over a perceived lack of support. Part of a trio of plays about British institutions, it focuses on the Church of England, and tackles issues such as gay ordination and the role of evangelism in inner-city communities.
It won the 1990 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play and was nominated for a Tony.
This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.
The production was dedicated to Janet Simpson, a long-time Bench member who died on November 3rd 2000. "Your cheerfulness, determination and strength will never be forgotten or replaced."
One of Janet's endearing features was that she was always unpunctual. She arrived late for meetings, gatherings and rehearsals. She would breeze in with not a jot of apology and win over everyone present with a winning smile.
This time, Janet dear, you were too early, too early by far.
|The Rev Lionel Espy||David Penrose|
|The Rt Rev Charlie Allen, |
Bishop of Southwark
|Frances Parnell||Sam Emery|
|The Rev Tony Ferris||Nathan Chapman|
|Stella Marr||Tanya Duff|
|The Rev Donald 'Streaky' Bacon||Tim Taylor|
|The Rev Harry Henderson||Andy Rees|
|Heather Espy||Ingrid Corrigan|
|Ewan Gilmour||Matt Hammett|
|Tommy Adair||David Hill|
|The Rt Rev Gilbert Heffernan||Alan Welton|
|Production Assistant||Mary Mitchell|
|Lighting Design||Damon Wakelin|
|Stage Manager||Liam Penny|
|Lighting Technician||Derek Callam|
|Sound Design and Technician||Sharman Callam|
|Poster Design||Pete Woodward|
|Production Photographs||John Plimmer|
|Front of House||Zoë Corrigan|
The Church that is married to the Spirit of the Age will be a widow in the next.
(Dean Inge 1860 - 1954)
One of the Bench Theatre's aims has been to mount productions of the best contemporary drama available. We have our own particular favourites in dramatists. Brian Friel has become one of our most performed playwrights. He writes terrific plays for actors and has much to say about the world we live in, which appeals to directors. I was surprised, therefore, to find that David Hare's plays had not been performed before. He has produced such a canon of good plays it was difficult to know where to start.
Racing Demon is the first in his trilogy looking at British institutions. As he states in his own book, 'Asking Around', his intention wasn't to theorise but to portray the lives of individuals trying to survive within them. He was amazed to find a group of inner-city priests, who had given up on theology and were spending long hours (and at salaries considerably below those of social workers or DHSS officials) pouring as much love and practical help as they could into "the vacuum created by society's indifference".
David Hare spent a considerable amount of time at the General Synod researching for his play, and records his thoughts and ideas in 'Asking Around'. He was struck by the self-flagellation prevalent in the debates within the Church of England. Constantly the institution was being compared unfavourably with other religious groups. He captures these divisions within a team ministry. He portrays a liberal Team Rector (Lionel) beset by pressures from within, in particular, a young charismatic priest (Tony) and from above, his bishop (Southwark). Tony wants a "successful" church packed with people, but David Hare echoes the belief as to whether this can represent Christ, "who conquers through vulnerability and helplessness".
The clash with the Bishop of Southwark provided the motif for the production. There is a quote from a vicar in 'Asking Around': "The trouble with bishops is that after a while they think they're God. They move us around like chessmen." One of the best scenes takes place over a chessboard and our set is primarily black and white. The chess pieces of bishops and pawns became the poster design.
I thought David Hare was an excellent playwright before this production but our work in rehearsals has shown us just how good is his dramatic technique and how acute his observation of British society. I have been privileged to work with some of the best non-professional actors and, coupled with the support of a fine technical crew, I hope you enjoy their labours this evening.
I will leave the last words in these notes to David Hare: "The one thing I have learnt and understood from five years' study is that British society needs not to abolish its institutions, but to refresh them. For, if not through institutions, how do we express the common good?"
When I give bread to the hungry, they call me a saint.
When I ask why the hungry are hungry, they call me a communist.
Again the Bench Theatre come up with the goods. David Hare's examination of the wider themes of faith and betrayal is slickly cast and generally well-acted. On a practically bare stage the company plays this piece with energy and style.
David Penrose is pivotal to the show's success. This chameleon of a man becomes the bumbling, apparently unfocused and failing priest at the centre of the play with consummate ease. Never once are you aware of "acting". He is real. He is impressive and so, so easy to watch.
And such able support. Nathan Chapman is impressive, especially later as his character dips his toes into an ocean of religious insanity. Sam Emery got off to a slow start last night, but warmed nicely and played her part to the utmost.
But watch those other supporting actors sneaking up on the inside. As fellow priest "Streaky" Bacon, Andy Rees [sic] gives a performance of real warmth. Watch especially for his solo aside to God. Beautifully judged. beautifully played. And this too, is a man who can play drunk with realism. This company has a powerful reputation, and on this showing, it is deserved. Until December 2.
The News, 24th Nov 2000
Thank you for your kind review of Racing Demon as performed by Bench Theatre (The News, Nov 24). You said some lovely things about my performance although, unfortunately I wasn't playing the role of the Reverend 'Streaky' Bacon - that role was played by Tim Taylor. Much though it hurts me to admit it, I think it was he your critic ought to praise. Tim's character may be warm and lovely but, in real life, he is a man who bears a grudge and has a black belt in karate. Please extend my life expectancy by a few more days and give him credit for his terrific performance.
Andy Rees, Lorne Road, Southsea