Review - The Exorcist at the Phoenix Theatre
The West End and Broadway have increasingly become like expanded multiplex cinemas, with live action versions of film hits now a well-established genre (next up on Broadway: SpongeBob SquarePants, Mean Girls, Frozen and King Kong); but plans to transfer Back to the Future to the stage are now in the past, and we are also yet to see stage versions of, say, Jaws, Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind or Blade Runner. Some titles resist theatricalisation for technological reasons, if nothing else.
So all credit to producer Bill Kenwright and a front-ranking creative team, led by director Sean Mathias, designer Anna Fleischle, music and sound designer Adam Cork and illusion designer Ben Hart, for not just attempting the seemingly impossible but also pulling off such an intricate, atmospheric and downright scary feat of bringing one of cinema's most notorious thrillers The Exorcist to the stage.
This is a jittery, jangly night of uneasy terror as a young girl becomes possessed by a devil, with viscerally terrifying results. With its West End opening timed to coincide with Hallowe'en, I emerged from the theatre to run into the living dead walking the streets, though it could have just been Soho on any night of the week.
But Broadway playwright John Pielmeier’s stage version of William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel puts flesh, blood and other bodily fluids on vivid display, wrapped in a disturbing tale of parenting, mental illness and superstition.
I won't give away what happens or describe how the show achieves its effects, but suffice it to say that all the key moments from the film are given their own stage incarnation here, with Jon Driscoll and Gemma Carrington's projections playing a large part in conveying the eerie atmosphere.
If the actors are overall subservient to the technological effects, there's game work from Clare Louise Connolly as the possessed Regan, with Jenny Seagrove as her anxious mother, Adam Garcia as a doubting priest and Peter Bowles as the priest who performs the exorcism.
The result is a genuine crowd-pleaser that has the audience not just cheering but also shrieking.
What the press said...
“…John Pielmeier’s intelligent (if imperfect) stage adaptation (which goes back to the novel) nor by Sean Mathias’s impressive production which admirably resists the temptation to camp it up or to play its special effects for knowing laughter.” – Paul Taylor, Independent (four stars)
“…an entertaining 100 minutes, the theatrical equivalent of a haunted fairground ride — not profoundly disturbing, but attractive to theatregoers who like nothing more than to squirm and scream.” – Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard (three stars)
“They’re raising heartbeats even before you’ve taken your seat at this fitfully shocking, knowingly creaky and yet on balance welcome theatrical fright-night.” – Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph (four stars)
The Exorcist Tickets are available now.