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Newbury Dramatic Society - Racing Demon

16th to 19th November 2005.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

When the play's the demon

Newbury Dramatic Society: Racing Demon, at The Watermill, from Wednesday, November 16 to Saturday, November 19

Half the actors taking part in this production had recently joined, or re-joined Newbury Dramatic Society. This must be encouraging for the group.

The 13 members of the cast, old and new, were all good performers. In that case, why encumber them with David Hare's weighty, overlong first-of-a-trilogy Racing Demon?

The story concerns four priests, each with his own outlook on religion. Lionel (Roger Burdett) goes for tea and sympathy, but a new young firebrand Tony (John Flexman) is a fanatic who will do whatever it takes to get a churchfull of people, sacrificing his own life and love for Frances (Kathleen Ray). Harry (Ed Tomlin) is a homosexual with problems of his own, but he and 'Streaky', the fourth clergyman (Stuart Hillman), support Lionel when Tony does his best to get the older man dismissed.

In the first-half there were inappropriate titters, as though some of the audience were hoping for some humour. By the second-half everyone had got the message.

Occasionally, humour there was, however, most of the good lines going to Streaky, a man of simple faith, and Stuart Hillman made the most of them without over-exaggeration. The roles of the priests, and that of their bishop (Jonathan Jones), were immense and all played superbly, the actors bringing out the differences in the characters well. Equally, Kathleen Ray coped excellently with the difficult role of Frances.

Director Ann Davidson's decision to use slides to establish the many different scenes was clever and effective.

Because of its written length, the play desperately needed not to drag. Unfortunately, Roger Burdett's decision to make the character of Lionel speak and move with deliberation added to the length of the production. In a less cumbersome play he could have got away with it, not this one.

I was irritated by the manipulation of two tables which went on and off stage via the actors with maddening regularity. Surely these could have been set up by stage hands? The result was that the gaps between the 23 scenes were often far too lengthy.

The NDS obviously has the luxury of excellent members at its disposal - they deserved a better choice of play.