18+ – The Phoenix Theatre, London – tickets from £30.00
THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT REGAN
While the easily-petrified may turn their noses up at the very prospect of seeing a theatrical adaptation of one of the most chilling books/films of all time, there is no denying that with the bulk of the action taking place in a single location (a simple bedroom), that William Peter Blatty’s horror masterpiece lends itself remarkably well to the stage.
Lasting a taut two hours (including a 15minute interval), screenwriter John Pielmeier’s play – currently on a 5 month West End residency following a 2016 debut in Birmingham’s Repertory Theatre – efficiently streamlines the often laborious and flabby transcript of William Friedkin’s 1973 supernatural shock-buster (reviewed HERE), effectively inserting some wicked and illusory tricks of the stage (courtesy of Ben Hart, credited as Illusion Designer) to ratchet up the tension and macabre atmosphere even during the production’s more talky lulls.
The stage is set from the very outset, with the play beginning with a deliberate ‘blackout’ of the theatre’s lighting, plunging the audience into pitch blackness with an audible gasp of terror. We are then introuduced to desert archaeologist Father Lancaster Merrin (Peter Bowles) who fears evil has been unearthed – an evil which speaks in Sir Ian McKellen’s (pre-recorded) voice and befriends teenager Regan MacNeil (Clare Louise Connolly) by pretending to be the benevolent “Captain Howdy,” before possessing her body and carrying out many a murderous misdeed.
Director Sean Mathias covers all the iconic touchstones – peeing at the dinner party, profanity, bloody misuse of a crucifix, head-spinning, bed-shaking, neck-breaking, projectile-vomiting – even if I personally felt Mike Oldfield’s synonymous theme “Tubular Bells” (Part One) was withheld too long and underused when finally played all-too-briefly at the very end. Personally, the theme would have had a greater impact were it played over Merrin’s silhouette approaching the MacNeil household prior to his carrying out the titular exorcism – and surely two uses would not be considered overkill?
Even though I did initially fear the dialogue was being rushed through, the cast – in particular Tristum Wymark (as Burke), Jenny Seagrove (as Regan’s mother, Chris) and Clare Louise Connolly, who carried large parts of the action single-handed – were all fantastic, as was the multi-layered stage set-up which made seamless use of video screens in the place of backdrops, and the stunt choreography. The jump-scares were well implemented without seeming cheesy, while my only criticism is that some of the reduced plot-points seemed to receive short shrift (such as “Dimmy”‘s mother used against her son from beyond the grave) and did not receive a fitting conclusion.
Nevertheless, this high-profile production of The Exorcist presented by producer extraordinaire Bill Kenwright does the long-running franchise proud and it plays out very much how I would predict a modern-day remake of the original story would.
CR@B’s Claw Score: