08th Dec2017

Review: ‘The Exorcist’ (Phoenix Theatre)

by Philip Rogers

When a young girl is bed-ridden by a strange illness, her desperate mother, Chris (Jenny Seagrove), calls in everyone she can to help. But when the medical profession cannot provide any answers to Regan’s (Clare Louise Connolly) symptoms, Chris is forced to turn to the local priest. Father Damien (Adam Garcia) must do all he can to overcome his shaken beliefs to tackle the demons before him. After all, he may be fighting for more than just one girl’s soul…

exorcist-stageplay

The Exorcist is based on the original novel from William Peter Blatty’s, although many will be more familiar with William Friedkin’s Oscar winning film version, which shocked audiences back in 1973. The latest re-imagining of the story has been clever adapted for the stage by John Pielmeir under the direction of Sean Mathias for a limited run at the Phoenix Theatre.

Like most of the audience I went into the show with some expectation, but more importantly intrigued to see how they would bring some of the visual horrors of the original to the stage.  It may not be able to capture the intensity which made the original film feel so chilling, instead relying more on the jump scare tactics from the volume of the music, rather than the slow build-up of tension. But when it comes to the visual execution it exceeded my expectations for a stage production. So those of a squeamish nature or easily offended may want to give this a miss.

The practical special effects were brilliantly executed and proved to be a big turning point in the second act. I don’t want to give too much away, but with all of the major elements you would expect have been cleverly implemented. I was really impressed with how the projected visual effects were used. They really added another element to the atmosphere and worked well to complement and enhance the practical effects which were being used.

The Exorcist may be known for its shock value, but there is a surprising amount of humour brought into the play. It doesn’t unsettle the gloomy mood which it tries to create, and actually gives the play a nice pace to keep the flow of events. Tristan Wymark is brilliant as the former Christian, Burke, whose comical delivery steals some of the early moments in the play, with his reference story regarding his previous encounter with Marlon Brando, giving a dry humour to an awkward moment.

The scenes may not be met with the same controversy which surrounded the film when it was originally released, as we have become more desensitised to the coarse language and violence. But it still manages to create some genuinely disturbing scenes, which surprisingly come during the more restrained moments. The psychological aspects of the devil trying to groom Regan to succumb to him and self-harm are made all the more haunting by the menacing voice of Ian McKellen. Regan was always going to be difficult to portray, especially as they are unlikely to have a minor portray such a role onstage, but Clare Louise Connolly portrays the role perfectly. Portraying Regan with plenty of energy and the change from the innocent to the callus is still effective, even though it is expected.

There are also some great performances from the seasoned cast members. Jenny Seagrove gives an emotional performance as Regan’s desperate mother and Peter Bowles has a domineering presence as father Merrin, who following a previous encounter with the devil is left debilitated, but focused enough to go on. However, I was really impressed with Adam Garcia with his performance as Father Damien, who has a real intensity with his character. Battling his own personal demons following the death of his mother, which in turn leads him to question his own faith.

The Exorcist may not be the scariest play which I have seen, but with plenty of jump scares and brilliantly executed special effects, it is certainly one of the most enjoyable. With only a short run until 10th March 2018, whether you are a horror fan, or just interested to see how they can bring this to the stage, this is a show which is worth checking out without too many pre-conceptions. A perfect night of entertainment which will leave your heart pumping and a smile on your face.

The Exorcist runs at the Phoenix Theatre until March 10th 2018.
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For more information and to purchase tickets please see the website for details: https://www.phoenixtheatrelondon.co.uk

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