Horrifying your audience is easier when they are trapped in a small space. We’re practically begging to be snuck up on. In a big venue like Theatre Royal, it can be easier to separate yourself from the action. Except when you’re watching a show like The Exorcist, that is. Based on the 1973 classic film of the same name, this horror classic about a young girl (Susanna Edgely) who becomes possessed by a demon is surprisingly effective as a stage adaptation.
From the moment the lights go out, the tension in the auditorium is palpable. Even when we know, logically, that there won’t be any real scares in the opening minutes, the tone is set for jumps and frights at anything from a flickering light bulb to an ear-piercing scream. The use of lighting and shadows is chilling. You’re never sure where to look. As with the film, the scares come not only from bangs in the darkness, but from the obscene language used, seemingly, by a child. The dark areas that it ventures into require a strong stomach to behold.
Sean Mathias’ direction and Anna Fleischle’s design create a first half of hair-raising perfection. It is a pity that it loses steam in the second act. The pacing begins to sag, and the climax is rather abrupt, doing a disservice to the superb build-up that came before it. It comes down to the disappointing characterisation of Father Merrin (Paul Nicholas) and a lack-lustre performance from Ben Caplan as Father Karras, who comes off as more whining and angry than the complex, tortured saviour figure he was intended to be.
Edgely, however, shines in a creepy and committed performance as possessed 12-year-old Regan. The dynamic between her, Sophie Ward as her mother and Tristram Wymark as her mother’s friend Burke has a Hollywood gloss of a group of characters ripe for the scaring. The pacing may droop from time to time, but nevertheless, this is a fun, theatrical, and frightening adaptation. Four stars.
Whispers from the Crowd:
“I thought it was brilliant, really well done.”