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

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.