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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Watch trailer for The Exorcist with Ian McKellen as the voice of the Demon

Ian McKellen will feature in the West End premiere of The Exorcist as the voice of the Demon.

From 20 October at the Phoenix Theatre, the stage adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s iconic best-selling novel will be unleashed onto the London stage for the very first time in a uniquely theatrical experience directed by Sean Mathias and adapted by John Pielmeier.

“Oh please, Mother, make it stop!”

When the medical profession fails to provide answers to young Regan’s strange symptoms her desperate mother Chris turns to a local priest for help. But before Father Damien can tackle what’s before him, he must overcome his own shaken beliefs, as this fight is for more than just one girl’s soul…

“I’m telling you that ‘thing’ upstairs isn’t my daughter…”

As previously announced, Jenny Seagrove will play Chris MacNeil opposite Peter Bowles as Father Lankester Merrin, Adam Garcia as Father Damien Karras, Todd Boyce as Doctor Strong, Elliot Harper as Father Joe, Isla Lindsay as Sharon, Mitchell Mullen as Doctor Klein, Tristram Wymark as Burke and Clare Louise Connolly as Regan.

Widely considered the scariest movie of all time, the film adaptation of The Exorcist sparked unprecedented worldwide controversy when it was released in cinemas in 1973. Winner of two Academy Awards, William Friedkin’s masterpiece saw audiences petrified to the point of passing out and went on to become one of the top ten highest grossing films of all time.

Multi award-winning Ian McKellen has had a 55 year long career on stage and on screen. For the Royal Shakespeare Company he has played Romeo, Macbeth, Iago and King Lear and at the National Theatre, has appeared in productions of Coriolanus, Richard III, Uncle Vanya and The Seagull. He gained his first Oscar nomination for Gods and Monsters and his second for Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He is Magneto to Patrick Stewart’s Xavier in the X-Men movies,Richard III and most recently Mr Holmes. He is currently starring in King Lear in Chichester and was last seen on stage in London with Patrick Stewart in No Man’s Land.

The Exorcist starts performances at the Phoenix Theatre on 20 October

Ronan Keating to lead star-studded West End Charity Gala

Platinum selling music icon Ronan Keating leads a star-studded line-up – for one night only – of songs, laughter and variety, at the Phoenix Theatre in London on 19 November at 7:30pm, for the Mane Chance West End Charity Gala Spectacular.

Ronan Keating said, “I am thrilled to be part of this very special concert and supporting such a worthy charity. The work Mane Chance does in the community for both horse welfare and enriching the lives of disabled and disadvantaged children and young people is invaluable.  Along with the brilliant line up of other performers, I know it will be a fantastic night and I hope we raise a huge amount of money for Mane Chance so they can continue with their great work!”

Ronan is joined by triple-reality TV singing sensation Joe McElderry, pop star Amelia Lily, America’s Got Talent winner and ventriloquist Paul Zerdin, chart-topping singer-songwriter Sandi Thom and superstar soprano Margaret Keys. With Jake Quickenden, Marti Webb, Patti Boulaye, Beau Dermott, Jenny Seagrove and a host of other favourites from the world of music, theatre, TV and entertainment, supported by a sensational live on-stage band. With all profits to Mane Chance charity.

Mane Chance and its beautiful sanctuary is dedicated to the rescue and recovery of abused and abandoned horses, and their subsequent mentored interaction with disabled and disadvantaged children and young adults. Improving lives, well-being and rehabilitation, the results for children and animals alike are often extraordinary and can be life-changing.

More details on Mane Chance at www.manechancesanctuary.org

The Mane Chance Charity Gala Spectacular is on Sunday 19 November 2017 at 7.30pm at Phoenix Theatre

Ticket Prices: From £15

 ATG Tickets: www.atgtickets.com/shows/mane-chance-charity-gala/phoenix-theatre/

Full casting announced for The Exorcist

“I’m telling you that ‘thing’ upstairs isn’t my daughter…”

Forty-five years after William Peter Blatty’s best-selling novel terrified an entire generation, The Exorcist will be unleashed onto the West End stage for the very first time in a uniquely theatrical experience directed by Sean Mathias and adapted for the stage by John Pielmeier.

Jenny Seagrove will play Chris MacNeil opposite Peter Bowles as Father Lankester Merrin, Adam Garcia as Father Damien Karras, Clare Louise Connolly as Regan, Todd Boyce as Doctor Strong, Mitchell Mullen as Doctor Klein, Elliot Harper as Father Joe and Tristram Wymark as Burke.

Widely considered the scariest movie of all time, the film adaptation of The Exorcist sparked unprecedented worldwide controversy when it was released in cinemas in 1973. Winner of two Academy Awards, William Friedkin’s masterpiece saw audiences petrified to the point of passing out and went on to become one of the top ten highest grossing films of all time.

“Oh please, Mother, make it stop! It’s hurting.”

When the medical profession fails to provide answers to young Regan’s strange symptoms her desperate mother Chris turns to a local priest for help. But before Father Damien can tackle what’s before him, he must overcome his own shaken beliefs, as this fight is for more than just one girl’s soul…

Peter Bowles, star of stage, film and television, will play Father Lankester Merrin – the Exorcist of the title. Peter’s West End theatre credits include Hay Fever with Judi Dench at Theatre Royal Haymarket, Archie Rice in John Osborne’s The Entertainer (Shaftesbury) and several leading roles in classic plays for Sir Peter Hall. He is probably best remembered for playing the role of Richard DeVere in the hit BBC comedy series To The Manor Born as well as leading roles in The Irish RMThe BounderRumpole of the Bailey and Only When I Laugh. Peter can currently be seen on ITV’s Victoria as the Duke of Wellington.

Jenny Seagrove, one of the UK’s most respected actresses, will be playing the role of Chris, the mother of Regan, who suffers emotional turmoil in the search to find help for her daughter’s ever increasing strange behaviour. Her prolific theatre career has seen her play the lead in almost every West End playhouse, with recent credits including Alan Ayckbourn’s How The Other Half Loves at the Haymarket, Brief EncounterVolcano, Tennessee Williams’ Night Of The Iguana, David Rabe’s Hurlyburly and The Country Girl with Martin Shaw. Jenny recently appeared as Louisa Gould in the film Another Mother’s Son but perhaps is best known to TV viewers as QC Jo Mills in ITV’s BAFTA award winning Judge John Deed.

Adam Garcia plays Father Damien Karras. Adam is a two-time Olivier Award nominee, was last seen in the West End in the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company’s The Winter’s Tale (Garrick) and recently starred in the world premiere of Kevin Elyot’s last play Twilight Song (Park Theatre, London). Musical stage credits include Kiss Me Kate, directed by Trevor Nunn (Chichester/Old Vic); Fiyero in the original London cast of Wicked with Idina Menzel (Apollo Victoria), Chip in On The Town (London Coliseum) and Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever (London Palladium). Adam gained international recognition for leading roles in films including Coyote Ugly and Riding in Cars with Boys with Drew Barrymore, and he appears in Kenneth Branagh’s forthcoming film adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express.

Director Sean Mathias has worked at the National Theatre and many times in the West End and on Broadway, as well as extensively internationally. In 2009/2010 Sean’s production of Waiting For Godot played two seasons at the Theatre Royal Haymarket and toured the UK and internationally. In 2013 Godot played Broadway along with his production of Pinter’s No Man’s Land, the latter transferring to Wyndham’s Theatre in October 2016 starring Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, and won Best Revival at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards that year.

The Exorcist is designed by Olivier Award-winning Designer Anna Fleischle (Hangmen), Lighting Design by Philip Gladwell (Five Guys Named Moe), Composition and Sound Design by Adam Cork (London Road), Projection Design by Jon Driscoll and Gemma Carrington(Brief Encounter) and Illusion Design is by Ben Hart (Impossible).

The Exorcist will play a strictly limited run at the Phoenix Theatre from 20 October 2017 to 10 March 2018.

The Exorcist will be unleashed in London

“I’m telling you that ‘thing’ upstairs isn’t my daughter…”

Forty-five years after William Peter Blatty’s best-selling novel terrified an entire generation, The Exorcist will be unleashed onto the West End stage for the very first time in a uniquely theatrical experience directed by Sean Mathias and adapted for the stage by John Pielmeier.

Widely considered the scariest movie of all time, the film adaptation of The Exorcist sparked unprecedented worldwide controversy when it was released in cinemas in 1973. Winner of two Academy Awards, William Friedkin’s masterpiece saw audiences petrified to the point of passing out and went on to become one of the top ten highest grossing films of all time.

“Oh please, Mother, make it stop! It’s hurting.”

When the medical profession fails to provide answers to young Regan’s strange symptoms her desperate mother Chris turns to a local priest for help. But before Father Damien can tackle what’s before him, he must overcome his own shaken beliefs, as this fight is for more than just one girl’s soul…

Sean Mathias has worked at the Royal National Theatre and many times in the West End and on Broadway, as well as extensively internationally. In 2009/2010 Sean’s production of Waiting For Godot played two seasons at the Theatre Royal Haymarket and toured the UK and internationally. In 2013 Godot played Broadway along with his production of Pinter’s No Man’s Land, the latter transferring to Wyndham’s Theatre in October 2017 starring Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, and won Best Revival at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards 2016.

The Exorcist is designed by Olivier Award-winning Designer Anna Fleischle (Hangmen) with lighting by Tim Mitchell (RSC/Guys and Dolls), composition and sound design by Adam Cork (London Road) and illusion design is by Ben Hart (Impossible).

The Exorcist will play a strictly limited run at the Phoenix Theatre from 20 October 2017 to 10 March 2018. Tickets will go on general sale at 4pm on Friday 11 August.

Review: ‘As good as it gets’ ★★★★ Evita, Phoenix Theatre

Society has long been fascinated with the wives of powerful men. From Lady Diana to Michelle Obama and now the Duchess of Cambridge, the beguilement continues. But it all started with a very special First Lady back in the late 1940s. Eva Peron was an iconic figure that rose from poverty to become half of a political powerhouse in Argentina before suffering an untimely demise at the age of just 33.

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The icon’s life was turned into a rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice in 1978 (the last musical the pair worked on together) and is seen by many as their greatest work.

Personally, I have always found the show a bit bland, with the discordant nature of the score and the reliance on the big song “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” (with continuous repeats of the hook) making the rest of the production anticlimactic.

That said; I always go to see a new production with an open mind and the revival – which first toured the UK before settling into the newly vacated Phoenix Theatre in the West End – has given me a little extra love for the classic musical.

That is mostly down to the leading lady Emma Hatton’s quite wonderful performance. Hatton is no stranger to big singing shows – having recently finished playing Elphaba in Wicked – and although some of the songs in act one fail to showcase her powerful belt, when act two begins, you know you’re in for a display of vocal virtuosity.

She slightly overshadows her costar, Gian Marco Schiaretti, with her stagecraft – although not in stature as he cuts a majestic figure. Schiaretti struggles to come to terms with the depth of Che’s character and his historical significance. Nevertheless it is an extremely charismatic portrayal and he does a great job of lifting songs like “Rainbow Tour” and “Goodnight and Thank You” out from under the continuous onslaught of the monster tune.

The other real surprising highlight – as you don’t think of Evita as a dance show – is Bill Deamer’s choreography, which is both intricate and interesting and adds fervor to the limited number of ensemble numbers.

Evita is a show that is a must see for musical fans – purely for its significance to modern theatre – and this production is as good as it gets.

Evita is running at the Phoenix Theatre until 14 October 

Photos by Pamela Raith Photography

Theatre News: Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s The Girls set to embark on nationwide tour

The critically acclaimed and award-winning production of The Girls will complete its six-month London season at the Phoenix Theatre on Saturday 15 July 2017 before embarking on a nationwide tour.

Producers David Pugh & Dafydd Rogers said, “We are so proud and thrilled with this production, and we want to take it to everyone who wants to see it in the country, and at prices they can afford.”

Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s new musical comedy, which played sold-out seasons in Leeds and Manchester prior to its West End run, is based on the true story, the film and the award-winning play by Tim Firth, Calendar Girls. The show will  return home to Yorkshire and open at the Leeds Grand Theatre on 15 August 2018 and visit 42 theatres across the United Kingdom.

Firth added, “We are delighted with the reception our musical has received in Leeds, Manchester and now London, and are thrilled that the show will be visiting towns and cities up and down the country, so that more people can get a chance to see it and, we hope, will also fall in love with The Girls.”

The Girls is inspired by the true story of a group of ladies, who decide to appear nude for a Women’s Institute calendar in order to raise funds to buy a settee for their local hospital, in memory of one of their husbands, and have to date raised almost £5million for Bloodwise. This musical comedy shows life in their Yorkshire village, how it happened, the effect on husbands, sons and daughters, and how a group of ordinary ladies achieved something extraordinary.

Gary Barlow and Tim Firth grew up in the same village in the north of England and have been friends for 25 years. With Take That, Gary has written and co-written 14 number one singles, has sold over 50 million records worldwide and is a six times Ivor Novello Award winner. Tim has won the Olivier Award and UK Theatre Award for Best New Musical, and the British Comedy Awards Best Comedy Film for Calendar Girls.

Bloodwise, the UK’s specialist blood cancer charity, will receive monies from this production.

www.thegirlsmusical.com

Star of The Girls, Sophie-Louise Dann takes our Sugar Rush Quiz

After opening to a plethora of five-star reviews earlier this year, The Girls is continuing to thrill audiences at the Phoenix Theatre in London’s glittering West End. Led by a cast of six stage stalwarts, who were collectively nominated for an Olivier Award, the production boasts a soundtrack by Take That star Gary Barlow and his childhood friend and playwright extraordinaire Tim Firth.

Gary Barlow with Sophie-Louise Dann at the Olivier Awards

The musical is based on the much-loved real life story of a group of Yorkshire housewives who made a nude calendar to raise money for charity.

One of the sextet of wondrous women is played by West End favourite Sophie-Louise Dann. The celebrated actress has been previously Olivier nominated for her portrayal of Diana Divine in Lend Me a Tenor, but now brings her wealth of talent to the role of the voluptuous Celia in The Girls.

We met Sophie for an impromptu cuppa and challenged her to take our Sugar Rush Quiz.

What are you currently working on?

The Girls

What is the one thing that has helped you to become successful? 

Belief in yourself and knowing what you bring to the table

What is your favourite Book?

Oh gosh! There are so many but I’ll have to say Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

What are you currently watching on TV? 

I do a lot of Iplayer watching because I commute from the coast so I have just downloaded the ‘Babs’ documentary, about Barbara Windsor. I’m a big fan of Samantha Spiro, as we started our careers off together a long time ago. She’s fabulous.

Would you choose the cinema, theatre or a restaurant for a night out? 

Because I work in the theatre I’m going to go with a restaurant.

What’s your favourite sweet? 

I’m an old-fashioned girl. I like a rhubarb and custard or a lemon sherbet.

What did you want to be when you were a child? 

It was very clear what made me tick when I was six. I knew I wanted to be on the stage and I’ve fulfilled that dream I suppose.

What was the naughtiest thing you did when you were a child? 

I broke my mum’s fingers! I had a tantrum and broke my mum’s fingers because I wanted a pair of dungarees in a shop window. I was a hateful child. My mother always said I turned into a delightful adult.

What is your proudest achievement to date? 

Proud, that’s a weird word isn’t it? I guess for recognition in this industry, I’ve been nominated twice for an Olivier Award.

What’s next? 

I can’t really say. I want to fulfill my lovely time with The Girls and we’re going very nicely, but there are a few things buzzing around for next year.

The Girls is running at the Phoenix Theatre