The Exorcist at the Phoenix Theatre
First, a bestselling novel. Then a controversial film. Now a live stage show. What can this new incarnation add to the horror classic that hasn’t already been put across? John Pielmeier’s new adaptation, directed by Sean Mathias, takes William Peter Blatty’s book as its source material in a show that treads the scale from unsettling to outright horrific whilst remaining patently familiar.
There are plenty of live theatre nuggets to relish: the auditorium being plunged into darkness as scenes cut from one to another; the smell of real incense; the impressive feat of the possessed child’s head rotating 360 degrees (earning cheers and applause from the press night audience); blinding lights aimed at the spectators.
But there’s not much else to mark the live show apart from the story we know. Pielmeier gives us plenty of back story and enough theological rumination to get our teeth into, but the knuckle-clenching abhorrence achieved by the movie thanks to effects like Regan’s spider walk down the stairs doesn’t find an equivalent here. Stage shows such as The Woman in Black and Ghost Stories provide far more jumps, but The Exorcist lets the viewer relish moments of pure wrongness… just not to the extent that its predecessors do.
The ominous old house depicted by designer Anna Fleischle forms a complete and claustrophobic world. A highly technical range of props and lighting programmes ensure a constant stream of creepy surprises. One of the highlights of the production is the subtle eeriness that precedes the full-on gore, such as pulsating wallpaper and misbehaving shadows on the bedroom wall.
A stellar cast comprises stars such as Peter Bowles (To the Manor Born) in the part of Father Merrin and Adam Garcia (Coyote Ugly) as Father Damien Karras. Jenny Seagrove is warm and down-to-earth as mother Chris, while Clare Louise Connolly puts on a belter of a performance as young Regan, going from sweet innocence to violent vulgarity with ease. A surprise treat comes in the form of Sir Ian McKellen as the voice of the demon. His evil drawl brings an unexpected charisma to the part.
It doesn’t offer anything new to the classic, but The Exorcist live is packed with enough frightening scenes and clever technical tricks to prove a thoroughly engrossing 100 minutes.
Photo: Robert Day
The Exorcist is at the Phoenix Theatre from 20th October 2017 until 10th March 2018. Book your tickets here.
Watch the trailer for The Exorcist here: