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The Exorcist comes to the London stage

Horror classic brings chills to the West End

A play by John Pielmeier.
Adapted from the 1971 novel by William Peter Blatty.
Directed by Sean Mathias.

45 years after The Exorcist novel terrified a generation along with a top 10 box office hit movie, the terror is back, and more tangible than ever!

The Exorcist tells the story of Regan (Clare Louise Connolly), the 12-year-old daughter of movie star Chris MacNeil (Jenny Seagrove). When Regan comes down with a mysterious illness no doctors or psychiatrists can diagnose, her atheist mother turns to faith for the answers. Calling on the help of Father Merrin (Peter Bowles) who has faced the beast before, and Father Karras (Adam Garcia) who is battling demons of his own. Will the beast consume Regan? Or will they save her in time? And at what cost?

Regan and Father Karras
Photo: Robert Day

Nervous chatter consumed the theatre in the moments leading up to the explosive start. Consequently leaving many screaming, hearts racing and the auditorium in total darkness. The perfect preface for what we would experience for the next hour and forty minutes. (They had wisely forgone the normal interval found in most other theatre productions to keep up the tension throughout.) Distant sounds of a Middle Eastern marketplace began to fill the theatre and a magnificent projection of a sunrise plucked us from the darkness, the journey was underway.

As expected it includes all the shocking visuals from the 1973 movie and then some! Brought to terrifying reality by clever sound design, use of projections and amazing illusions curtsey of Ben Hart. Smaller appendages add-on to the main set allowing for better flow between scenes occurring outside of the main house. The lighting design leaves the stage in a state of perpetual gloom, while the remaining darkness keeps the audience on edge. Did the wallpaper just move? What’s that in the shadows?! Where’s Regan gone? All questions I heard whispered through the terrified audience, tension growing as the beast took hold.

Merrin & Karras with Regan
Photo: Robert Day

Connolly’s portrayal of Regan from young carefree child to satanic marionette was masterful, switching between the two states seamlessly. Garcia’s take on the tortured Father Karras was skillful, sensitive and wholly believable. This is no doubt down to his pre-show preparation. This involves him sitting in a dark room for two hours imagining the worst possible things that could happen to his family to pull himself into Karras’ world. Even during the show, he avoids all unnecessary interaction to maintain character. (Thankfully, after the show he reverses the process with showering to upbeat music, in a bright room with scented candles!). A nice surprise came in the form of some wonderful voice acting. Sir Ian McKellen voices the beast in a charming yet terrifying manner, flawlessly lip synced by Connolly.

However, one effect that did begin to grate involved flashing several, large, bright lights directly at the audience alongside thunderclaps. This effect conceals some of the set moves and special effects whilst the audience’s eyes readjust to the darkness. The only other niggle was with one of the audio scares that left the majority of the audience covering their ears due to the pitch and intensity of the noise. Sadly it was more painful than scary. Thankfully this was an isolated incident and the rest of the scares were more thoughtfully presented.

In conclusion, an intriguing production with solid acting that draws you in and effects that will have your head spinning with wonder. While definitely not one for those of a nervous disposition or the easily offended (it features very strong language and the inevitable gruesome acts with a crucifix), if you who want to try something a bit different from the flashy musicals of the West End I highly recommend it.

The Exorcist is playing until 10th March 2018 at the Phoenix Theatre London.
Tickets available here: http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-exorcist/phoenix-theatre/

Photography by Robert Day.

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