Wednesday, 23 October 2019
THEATRE REVIEW: The Exorcist - The Opera House, Manchester.
With Halloween just a week away, it's quite fitting that 'The Exorcist' makes its stage debut in Manchester. 46 years ago the movie was deemed by many as too grotesque to be screened in cinemas, now it has become one of the most iconic horror stories of all time. Back then people had never seen anything quite like it before, it's no wonder it caused such a stir upon its release.
I think it's fair to say that this play is not for the faint-hearted or those of a nervous disposition. However, for those who love the horror genre then the stage production does not disappoint and mostly stays true to the 1971 novel.
For anyone who may not be aware of the plot, it is essentially a story of a child who becomes possessed by the devil who performs some of the most awful acts of child abuse on her. So if you were looking for an easy watch, this is definitely not it.
Upon reading the programme I was taken aback to discover The Exorcist is based on a true story. In 1949 an exorcism was performed on a 12 year old boy, however William Peter Blatty chose to adapt it to a girl.
Whilst waiting for the show to begin, I was thinking how are they going to recreate the now iconic scenes from the movie. That is probably the biggest ask of the stage production. There are limitations when it comes to adapting a book and movie for the stage, and therefore there are some elements of the production that slow the pace down and as a package it isn't as scary as the movie. However, it does contain a lot of the elements from the movie including the shaky bed, neck cracking and head spinning.
I really enjoyed the use of lighting during the show as it helped to capture the eerie atmosphere. However, at times the flashes of light and thunder claps became a bit predictable. The use of staging was also very clever. The use of projections on the wall to create visions of the demon was excellent. At times you could see the shadow of the demon on the wall, which really helped bring it to life.
Susannah Edgley in the lead role of Reagan is absolutely flawless. In the beginning she displays the vulnerability of a 12 year old girl, however she also had the physicality to become possessed by a demon. Also, her lip synching to Ian McKellen's voice was perfectly timed.
For those like me who have not seen The Exorcist movie in some years may have forgotten just how creepy it is. In the beginning of the show when Reagan is talking to the devil, the comments he makes about her are actually quite difficult to listen to.
A priest called Damien Karras is enlisted to help rid the demon of Reagan. However, the demon knows far too much about Karras and brings up old wounds about his mother's death.
I think it's fair to say there are some comedy moments in the show. Some of the elements of the show that may not have been funny in the 1970s transfer into humour in 2019. The movie is quite intense, so it's good to have some moments of relief in the stage production.
Paul Nicholas plays the title role of The Exorcist; Father Merrin. To be fair, he doesn't appear in many scenes, however he does make an impact immediately. It was nice to see Nicholas play something outside the comedy roles he's well known for.
The horror fan in me would have loved more gore and all of the elements from the movie, but you can't have it all. Having said that it is an intense and creepy watch.
Reviewer - Brian Madden
on - 22/10/19