Review: ‘Frightening, fatalistic and yet alarmingly funny’ ★★★ The Exorcist, Phoenix Theatre

I have to say, most of the time I find everyday life frightening enough, so I’ve never been one to seek out terror. Having said that, I’m a big fan of the classic gothic horror The Woman in Black, which is still playing at the Fortune Theatre after 25 years.

Any hope of the new stage adaption of William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist being remotely like the gentle Victorian thriller was dashed early on however and I spent much of the evening watching through my fingers as a disturbing commotion unfolded.

Frightening, fatalistic and yet alarmingly funny, The Exorcist is worth the ticket price for Clare Louise Connolly’s unbelievably apt performance as the possessed 12-year old girl Regan. Perfectly sweet and innocent to begin, before the demon really takes charge, Connolly’s transformation into a cursing sexual Satan is quite remarkable. And when she is miming the dulcet tones of Sir Ian McKellen (pre-recorded as the devil), I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself that Gandalf has changed a bit.

The staging effects (with design by Anna Fleischle, illusion by Ben Hart and lighting by Tim Mitchell) are also pretty impressive – with projections including a wall of rats to make your flesh crawl and a clever use of sectional tabs – although the reliance on blinder lights and loud noise is, at times, a little too much.

Having said that, director Sean Mathias has managed to capture the feel of the 1973 film, with enough fright, tongue-in-cheek humour and downright cheesy dialogue.

But some of the acting feels a bit wooden as a result, with a need for a greater build up of suspense and for the actors to not so obviously be waiting for the stage effects to come along. However, I’m sure that will come as they get into the run.

No, The Exorcist is not a high-class dramatic piece of theatre, but it is, nevertheless a highly entertaining night out.

The Exorcist is running at the Phoenix Theatre until 10 March.

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