★★★★★ – 5 STARS
After a successful run in Birmingham, John Pielmeier’s adaption of William Peter Blatty’s book The Exorcist has hit the stage at the Phoenix Theatre in London. Premiering last October it still manages to pull in a good crowd, even on Valentine’s Day (with surprisingly few goth couples in the audience).
Starting at 8pm, even if it wasn’t Valentine’s, is a sure way to have a crowd that’s ready to be thrilled, shocked and give you some good reactions and The Exorcist certainly provided. An air of creepiness greets you before you’ve even taken your seats at the Phoenix, itself a lovely place to see theatre, and by the time the lights go out (rather dramatically) you are well into the mindset that you are about to be terrified.
It is fantastically thrilling, with many genuinely jumpy jump-scares, a hard thing to do on stage. The plot has been wonderfully adapted, from the book, films, and input from Blatty himself. You feel engaged throughout, there is no time wasted in nuanced subtle subplots which added little to the film, and the action starts quicker than you may imagine. Audible gasps could be heard not only in the ‘scary’ parts but also those which were dark and haunting in themselves – little girl alone and scared with a sharp knife surrounded by Ian McKellen’s brilliantly disturbing (and uncredited) voice acting is sure to give the happiest little elf the creeps.
Connolly, who plays Regan, absolutely steals the show with her portrayal. She makes the transition from perfect daughter to demon possessed victim seamlessly but guides the audience through the internal struggle in a captivating way. Her flawless synchronisation with McKellen’s voice track must be commended, a stand out star, even if you did come away thinking she was creepy as fuck. The other actors too gave good performances, Garcia, playing Karras, gave a stunningly convincing performance as the conflicted priest – a character much better developed than in the movie. One comment on the acting would be the presence of unfortunate slips in American accents, bound to happen yet slightly irritating.
The set was a gorgeously eerie house, showing Regan’s bedroom almost throughout, using quick and convenient set changes (often during jump scares) did not take away from the momentum of the story. Undeniably though what stood out was the lighting and sound effects. From being plunged into sudden darkness, lit up by beams blindingly bright, a genius combination of music, FX and real-life screams gave the production its finishing touches. If you are not a fan of jump-scare horror, you may find it too much, but it was an excellent use of effects and added to the story, in today’s world it is quite hard to make horror scary.
An all-round enjoyable, thrilling and excellent experience, I absolutely recommend The Exorcist to any thrill-seekers or fans of the movie. The decently priced tickets (which were made even better by the upgrade) only added to the fun. If you were feeling adventurous (or romantic?) the Phoenix was also offering fun Valentine’s drinks, one Demon Champagne caught our eye, though we did not partake.
Written by: John Pielmeier
Directed by: Sean Mathias
Starring: Clare Louise Connolly, Jenny Seagrove, Adam Garcia, Peter Bowles
When: Until 10 March
Where: Phoenix Theatre, Charing Cross Road
Photo: Phoenix Theatre