Birmingham Repertory Theatre – until 5 November 2016
The majority of us are familiar with the original horror film which was based on the novel by William Peter Blatty. To this day, it can still turn my stomach (not my head… fortunately!) and make my toes curl, so, looking for a play to watch on the run up to Halloween? Why not watch this version which has been adapted for stage by John Pielmeier.
We were left quite literally in the dark for what felt like minutes, before the incidental music started us off on our journey and the first scene involving Peter Bowles as Father Merrin was excavating and the horror was unleashed. The set was the perfect design for this genre of play, it encompassed the action and lent itself to the abundance of special effects which were such a vital part of the success of this production.
The story revolves around Chris (Jenny Seagrove) and Regan (Clare Louise Connolly), Chris is a movie star working on a project with director, Burke (Tristam Wymark) and renting a house which she and her daughter are finding to be a somewhat creepy abode. Meanwhile, running separately from the main storyline, yet extremely incidental to it, we have Father Damien Karras (Adam Garcia) who is wracked with guilt over the recent death of his mother, who had not ended her days in the best of settings.
Simultaneously, Regan is being drawn into a dark world following her encounter with a Ouija board. It’s one of those classic horror stories which builds gradually, first we see the relationship between Regan and ‘Mr Howdy’ developing as the dangerous spirit enters her mind by playing games. This culminates in a death threat from Regan to Burke, followed by inappropriate urination! As the demon really takes hold on the ten year old girl there are some strong performances from Mitchell Mullen as Doctor Klein and Todd Boyce as Dr Strong. Although the latter recovers remarkably quickly from the loss of part of his ear.
The production possessed the right level of fear factor, edge of your seat moments and all of the right elements from the film were replicated in spectacular fashion. Bowles was a morose and imposing presence as Father Merrin, Adam Garcia was a fine choice for the role of Father Damien, taking him to the brink of despair and beyond with subtlety and care. The biggest head turner was surely Clare Louise Connolly as the little girl herself, though. Giving Linda Blair a good run for her money in what must be a draining, demanding and disturbing role to portray.
Seeing the film is not necessarily a prerequisite and it’s a perfectly timed run with Halloween fast approaching. The Exorcist stays at Birmingham Repertory Theatre until 5 November 2016 and this is the UK premiere of the piece.
Photo Credits: Robert Day