Touring – reviewed at Theatre Royal, Glasgow
It’s a work that’s polarised audiences in both book and film form, and now, almost 50 years after William Peter Blatty’s best-selling novel first appeared, the stage version arrives in Glasgow on its first national tour. Is it a horror classic? Is it satanic porn? Is it even suitable for stage adaptation? What can be in no doubt is that many audience members will arrive in the auditorium with a certain set of expectations: will there be head-spinning, projectile vomiting, masturbating with a crucifix? Yes, yes and, err yes.,
Inspired by a real 1949 case in Maryland, simply, it’s the story of the demonic possession of 12-year-old Regan MacNeil, daughter of actress Chris, and the repeated attempts to cure what ails her, moving from the worlds of science to religion, ultimately ending in the titular exorcism.
While claiming to explore some bigger themes: faith and disbelief, doubt and courage, it is ultimately an opportunity to be scared witless in the name of entertainment, and the largely solid cast (save for the inevitable adult over-playing a 12-year-old child in an already over the top role) and Anna Fleischle’s dimly lit design, complemented by Adam Cork’s soundscape, all help to enhance the sense of creeping tension. It’s a little flabby, even at a short 100 minute running time, and it never matches the nerve-shredding tension of the movie version, but there are sufficient scares to get the blood pumping.
What it does achieve to its credit, is attracting a fresh set of theatre-goers, and provides a welcome relief from anodyne plays and a glut of perpetually touring musicals.