THE Church of England is in a parlous state, and has been for some time. Beset by scandal, changing demographics and the rise of secularism – it has become defined by its problems, and can’t seem to find solutions.

Racing Demon, written in 1990, takes this scenario by the horns. Lionel (David Haig) is an inner-city vicar, sharing his parish with three other men of the cloth. One is involved in a blossoming romantic relationship with an earnest young Scot - while another ‘Streaky Bacon’ (Sam Alexander) is a beatific alcoholic, content to gaze at the wonders of the world. Lionel himself is a gentle soul, preaching a faith tempered by harsh realities, one that is deemed functionally heretical by the church.

Tony (Paapa Essiedu) is different however. From a troubled background, he sees a disconnect between the church and the people it is trying to connect with, and takes on the task of building bridges. Far from being another organiser of coffee mornings and gentle meetings, he brings a crusading zeal double-edged with youthful impulsiveness and egregious ego. To him, Lionel is emblematic of the Anglican malaise, and so Tony takes it upon himself to remove the humble vicar at any cost. And on this journey he is aided by a bishop (William Chubb) blinded by the trappings of power, only at ease when in full pomp.

David Hare’s take on the church is full of ideas, and ambition, but gets a little too bogged down in earnest handwringing at the expense of dramatic development. At times it can feel a little like a dramatization of a theology essay.

Regardless, it is supremely well-acted, with the cast giving it their considerable collective all. This is an excessively professional production on a very timely issue, but one that gets a little too caught up in itself to really make an impact. With a lot of telling at the expense of showing, some interesting moments and techniques are lost – this is a tale of potential that has lost something in translation.