Inspired by true events, The Exorcist first saw the light of day in 1973 when William Peter Blatty’s story of a 12-year old girl who becomes possessed by a demon after playing with a Ouija board was made into a blockbuster movie by William Friedkin. The original film played to packed cinemas despite the efforts of many councils to ban its showing and it went on to win two Oscars.
The film rapidly attained cult status among horror buffs. So,the question on most people’s lips was “Will Bill Kenwright’s staging of John Pielmeier’s adaptation for the stage cut the mustard?” The answer has to be a resounding yes.
From the heart-stopping opening seconds to its frantic finale the audience is gripped in uneasy silence. This is not a horror story that has the viewer squirming and screaming at the odd horrific moment – indeed some of the iconic scenes from the movie have been removed – but rather it wraps the audience in a cloak of intense unease as the drama unfolds.
All of this is achieved by the awesome efforts of a fantastic Creative Team and the Direction of Sean Mathias. Anna Fleischle has designed a gloriously spooky Gothic mansion set that uses its two-storey design to great effect and this is backed up by excellent lighting and sound effects by Philip Gladwell and Adam Cork respectively.
The cast responds to this excellent setting by producing strong performances throughout. Susannah Edgely gives an extremely committed performance as young girl Regan while Sophie Ward (well-known from her television appearances that include Heartbeat) is superb as her guilt-ridden and terrified actress mother Chris MacNeil.
Ben Caplan (PC Noakes from Call the Midwife) is extremely effective as Father Damian – a priest who is struggling with his faith – and he is joined in the fast-paced finish by Paul Nicholas who gives an impassioned performance as exorcist Father Merrin. Nicholas has certainly come a long way since his frothy comedy Just Good Friends and his throwaway pop hits!!
In the midst of all this oppression the audience needs some light relief and this is provided by the character Burke Dennis. The inebriated film director is ably played by Tristram Wymark. But the stand-out performance comes from Sir Ian McKellen.
The national treasure does not make a physical appearance in the production but his recorded voice-over as the Devil is truly masterful. McKellen’s character is played as an impish, mischievous demon who sounds fun to hang around with but shows the true depth of his evil as the action progresses.Congratulations to Edgely for some excellent lip-syncing.
In the programme Fleischle says “I am hoping that the audience will leave shaken to the core… and a sense of relief that they are going back to their warm and protective homes.” Anna, I can assure you that you succeeded one hundred per cent.
I heartily recommend this production to all horror buffs and lovers of great theatre. But beware! The Exorcist is most definitely not for the faint-hearted.
The production – which has a running time of approximately two hours including interval – completes its time at the Regent Theatre on Saturday October 5th.
Tickets can be obtained from www.atgtickets.com