This week saw The Exorcist open at the REP, a stage play adapted from the novel and Oscar-winning film. All adaptations follow Regan, a young girl who becomes possessed by a demon, and her mother’s fight to find out what is wrong, and to convince a priest to help exorcise her.
The show itself is pacy and very watchable. This is due to the immense streamlining and cuts to the plot to make it into the time frame of a stage show, which loses any potential difficulties in minor characters and impossible to stage moments. However some moments that I anticipated would be too difficult to stage, such as the infamous head spin, are attempted. Admittedly, that example isn’t particularly well done, but the rest of the special effects onstage are very well executed, leading to some deeply disturbing, graphic moments onstage as Regan is seen spiralling out of control. The show warns about adult content, and the caution is well founded, with a lot of swearing, sexual references and blood in store.
The show’s cast are commendable. Particularly Claire Louise Connelly as Regan, and Jenny Seagrove as her despairing mother Chris. Connelly is to be especially praised, for not only convincingly playing a ten year-old, but also playing the demon as he takes over Regan. The demon himself is played through voice-over by Sir Ian Mckellan, who commands the space despite never once stepping foot into it. Through this voice and Connelly’s physicalisation, the demon is brilliantly presented, proving a worthy adversary to Adam Garcia’s brooding priest Karras.
A surprising aspect is the role of Chris’s boss, Burke. His character in the play is greater than his film counterpart. He is onstage a good deal, and is efficiently used to tie together the characters of Chris and Damien Karras. This enlarged role cements coherence and allows for alterations and cuts from the original. It also means that the character is given time, and space for a comic and likeable portrayal by Tristram Wymark, to gain the audience’s sympathies. This makes it more shocking when he meets his fate, which is brutally realised onstage, where it is never shown onscreen.
The show’s pace and presentation makes it one of the most entertaining things I have seen recently. The use of light and sound in the space to startle the audience, and build suspense, works brilliantly alongside the action. The acts moved quickly, but coherently, and I never found myself bored or wondering how long before the end. This might also be due in part to knowing the film, and so knowing what to expect, rather than anxiously waiting to see what will happen next. Despite this, and how disturbing some scenes were, I didn’t find the play scary. Again, maybe this is because the element of surprise was removed from knowing the plot of the film, or perhaps just because the pace is a little too much to build suspense effectively. Maybe I am a case to be excluded however, as there were occasional jumps and gasps from fellow audience members! Knowing what was coming hardly spoiled the experience, however. It was deeply satisfying to see moments of the film realised so closely, and to see how it has transferred to another medium.
Ultimately the show is an entertaining and satisfying adaptation to a well-known film. It doesn’t necessarily add much, other than it is live onstage. It also leans towards the disturbing rather than the scary, but either way, it is well worth seeing this Halloween.