Stage Door Reviews

Stage Door Reviews of
Royal Alexandra Theatre 1998/99 productions

Stage Door Reviews by Roger Kershaw and Jim Lingerfelt
(Your comments and reviews are also welcome. Please?)

  • Racing Demon, by David Hare (Guest review by Jonathan Harrison)

Racing Demon
by David Hare
The Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto
September 9 to October 17, 1998
Stage Door Guest Review by Jonathan Harrison

If Racing Demon doesn’t become the smash hit in Toronto that it was at the Chichester Festival in England perhaps it will be because it may be better suited to the Shaw or Stratford Festivals here. To say its a thinking man’s play might stop too many people going to see it, so I’ll fall short of that, and yet... Racing Demon might not play in Toronto as the comedic sweetmeat that it was in England this summer. Why not? It's solid theatre, no doubt about it, and it has the qualities of great pathos and understanding. The acting is first class all the way and the set is as clever as a Swiss Army knife but, aw heck, it does get a bit
boring to watch at times. Listen by all means... go ahead and listen all you like... you’ll enjoy that, but as a visually stimulating theatrical piece it has its downsides.
David Hare’s award winning play brought to the Mirvish’s Royal Alexandra theatre for the next four weeks, with director Christopher Morahan at the helm, examines crises facing the established church in today’s ever changing world. It deals with the need for evangelism over comfortable platitudes and handles it via a senior priest in an inner city church
facing a career challenge from a young upstart. The young upstart, Reverend Tony Ferris, comes face to face with the reality of his own sin and terminates his relationship with a young woman, preferring instead to fight for spreading the Good Word and he starts by intervening for the rights of a battered wife. The senior priest, Lionel Espy, seems a dead loss at everything but platitudes. He offers mundane prayers for the needy, prefers playing chess to nursing his ailing wife and seems not to notice
his dysfunctional children. Sounds pretty much like fun doesn’t it? It is in its own quiet way.
Stopping it being a veritable hoot is the staccato delivery of Dinsdale Landon (Espy) whose machine gun bursts of dialogue take a bit of getting used to. And its easy to close your eyes in scenes such as the one in front of the billboard in act two. Ferris and his ex, Frances Parnell (Caroline Loncq), are having a bit of a how de do and if it weren’t for a thoughtful
director telling an under-worked extra to walk across the stage with an umbrella and look nervous, well, there’d be not much to watch at all. And theatre is, as well as everything else it is, a visual medium. So it loses a few brownie points there, but...
The fun does percolate throughout and The Reverend Donald “Streaky” Bacon (Peter Bourke) has most of it. In fact, if it weren’t for the fact that the audience thinks he has all of it, they might take better to other character’s laugh lines.
The Bishop dresses down Espy something fierce with an angry tirade, putrid green jello pudding is mentioned, if I recall correctly, and Espy can only conclude that the Bishop’s objection to his staying on in his church is “purely theological”. And you know Dinsdale Landon’s Espy is beautifully calculated when you watch his masterfully still body language. He stands up
to the Bishop with nary a twitch and at the end of it defies him by saying the Bishop chose to fire him because he thought he’d go without a fight. Triumphantly it is not the case.
Racing Demon may bring a new audience to the Royal Alex. At the intermission I chatted with the warden of a Toronto church who was visiting the place for the first time in years. He’d brought nine others with him, all coffee-chatter theologians, to see what Hare had wrought for the Anglican Church and..... For Arts’ Sake.

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