sun 19/11/2017

The Exorcist, Phoenix Theatre review - see the movie | reviews, news & interviews

The Exorcist, Phoenix Theatre review - see the movie

The Exorcist, Phoenix Theatre review - see the movie

It probably seemed like a good idea at the time

More tea, vicar? Peter Bowles as Father Merrin with possessed child Regan (Clare Louise Connolly)

Although playwright John Pielmeier, who has written this stage adaptation of The Exorcist, reckons that “I adapted the novel, not the film,” the indelible images from William Friedkin’s 1973 movie were always bound to define an audience’s expectations. The spinning head and green projectile vomiting have entered collective folklore, and the film’s extensive use of prosthetics, elaborately sinister sound effects and subliminal imagery conspired to earn it the reputation of being the most terrifying movie of all time.

However, this isn't even the scariest play this week. Designer Anna Fleischle has made skilful use of the Phoenix stage, enabling director Sean Mathias to cut rapidly (and almost filmically) between upstairs and downstairs rooms in the accursed house of Chris MacNeil and her daughter Regan, and the team have managed to pull off some quite impressive logic-defying stunts, but the piece is never intense or immersive enough to drag the viewer to that ghastly heart of darkness.

The ExorcistNor, unfortunately, is there enough to chew on in the characterisations to make you feel very involved in the cast’s horrific predicament. Jenny Seagrove makes a decent enough stab at Chris, a famous actress in the midst of shooting a movie and struggling to find enough time to spend with her young daughter, but it’s not her fault that there’s no scope for her to take the role anywhere particularly compelling. In the absence of her ex-husband, she relies on gay, middle-aged Burke (Tristram Wymark) for somewhat louche and drink-sodden company. Meanwhile daughter Regan (Clare Louise Connolly) is merely a sort of off-the-peg, standard issue child before she is subsumed by supernatural forces.

There’s some jiggery-pokery with strobe lights, sudden darkness, supposedly sinister creaking noises and loud bangs, but the darn thing stubbornly refuses to press its freezing hands around your throat or make your stomach churn. Both Friedkin and William Peter Blatty, author of the original novel, were profoundly concerned with issues of faith and belief, not to mention psychology, but while these are all included in the play, they don’t force you to feel them at any profound level. Maybe it’s because the story is so well known in advance that the analytical discussions about Regan’s mental state by a couple of medics (Todd Boyce and Mitchell Mullen) merely feel like a way to fill a bit of running time before we get to the main event. The ExorcistWhen the Evil One deigns to make its presence felt, it’s at first reassuring to recognise the fruity tones of Sir Ian McKellen delivering the demonic message. Surely so majestic a thespian will be able to conjure all manner of hideous spectres out of the ether? However, confidence begins to evaporate as it becomes clear that Sir Ian has chosen to treat his Satanic calling as a bit of a lark, hilariously mocking the puny humans trying to clip his devilish wings, and relishing a little too much the scatalogical filth issuing from the mouth of the possessed child.

The eventual appearance of the exorcist himself, Father Merrin, isn’t a great help, since Peter Bowles (for it is he) goes about his ministrations with such a weary and apologetic air that it’s almost as if he’s afraid of offending the Beast (pictured above, Bowles, Connolly and Adam Garcia as Father Damien). Connoisseurs of matters demonic will surely feel better served by sticking to the cinematic realm.

It’s at first reassuring to recognise the fruity tones of Sir Ian McKellen delivering the demonic message

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Editor Rating: 
2
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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