The Exorcist review

Theatre, Drama
3 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
(19user reviews)
 (© Pamela Raith)
1/6
© Pamela Raith Adam Garcia (Father Karras Clare Louise Connolly (Regan) and Peter Bowles (Father Merrin)
 (© Pamela Raith)
2/6
© Pamela Raith Clare Louise Connolly (Regan)
 (© Pamela Raith)
3/6
© Pamela Raith Clare Louise Connolly (Regan)
 (© Pamela Raith)
4/6
© Pamela Raith Jenny Seagrove (Chris)
 (© Pamela Raith)
5/6
© Pamela Raith Adam Garcia (Father Karras) and Jenny Seagrove (Chris)
 (© Pamela Raith)
6/6
© Pamela Raith Clare Louise Connolly (Regan) and Peter Bowles (Father Merrin)

Ian McKellen lends his voice to this enjoyable but somewhat dumbed down stage version of the classic horror film

This stage version of ‘The Exorcist’ is billed as a fresh adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s 1971 horror novel. But lovers of the blockbuster 1973 film shouldn’t panic – it is, to all intents and purposes, a replica of the movie and its set-pieces, condensed into a tight, FX-heavy 100 mins.

Accepting that it’s basically a story about Satanic child abuse, it’s all quite enjoyable, and Sean Mathias’s production is an undoubted technical triumph. It’s not exactly terrifying – the story has been absorbed by pop culture    but there’s enough nifty use of light and makeup and illusion, and things appearing in the dark, to guarantee a few scares for even a jaded audience. Not that the audience seemed jaded: with an 8pm start time, the Monday night crowd I saw it with were agreeably lively (ie they’d been to the pub) and clearly up for a scare.

In case you’re somehow unaware, the plot basically runs thusly: a young girl, Regan (Clare Louise Connolly, solid), is possessed by a supernatural entity, who may or may not be the Devil himself. Her increasingly unnerving behaviour prompts her mother Chris (Jenny Seagrove, whiny) to call in hot young neighbourhood priest Father Damien Karras (Adam Garcia, fiery), who in turn escalates things with management and summons the titular demon-banisher Father Lankester Merrin (a dignified Peter Bowles).

All your favourite bits from the film make it in: spinning head, vomiting, creepy sexual swearing; there’s even a snatch of Mike Oldfield’s iconic theme at the curtain call. It is all very technically accomplished, and boasts one absolutely stupendous turn: Ian McKellen’s pre-recorded voiceover as the demon is genuinely sensational, with its seductive, even comforting tone, lightly tinged with fathoms-deep menace. It’s the one area in which you’d say the play exceeds the film it’s clearly indebted to.

And that’s my basic problem with ‘The Exorcist’– everything about this show feels subservient to the film. Clearly there’s an audience up for that, but I’d have loved to see a freer adaptation that could surprise as well as shock. This version was adapted by minor US playwright John Pielmeier and originally premiered in LA in 2012, in a production starring Brooke Shields, and it feels like an efficient transposition of the film but little more. Even the cast’s US accents feel frustrating – it would have been ten minutes’ work to tweak the script to set it in the UK, diminish the air of staginess and at least do something to differentiate it from the parent feature.

Still, it knows what it wants to be: it’s a piece of entertainment as much as a play, perfectly suited to twenty-first-century attention spans as it rattles out half an hour shorter than the film. There is real craft here – particularly from McKellen – and populism can be a seriously underrated virtue in the theatre. But it feels haunted by the spectre of the braver production that might have been.

By: Andrzej Lukowski

Posted:

Average User Rating

3.7 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:4
  • 4 star:6
  • 3 star:6
  • 2 star:2
  • 1 star:0
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Tastemaker

The Exorcist is one of my all time favourite horror films, a true classic, so you can appreciate I was more than a little skeptical as to how a theatre adaption would turn out. All in all I think they just about all it off. It definitely helped that the 9pm Friday showing has no interval, therefore carries the suspense throughout the entire show. The acting was pretty good, and the play followed the premise of the film to a t. I do feel that the use of strobe lighting was a little overkill, and certain scenes could've been better - that head turning scene tho!

tastemaker

Sean Mathias’s ambitious stage version of The Exorcist is marketed as a terrifying adaptation of the 1973 classic film and promises an equally chilling experience. From my aisle seat in the stalls, though, I had the impression that some special effects have been devised with only the middle section in mind, as I could see Reg's vom jet coming out of a pillow. More jump-scare than bloodcurdling, some devices used to create tension are quite old school, including the loud bang at curtain up and the following long moment of darkness, when the auditorium fills with the nervous (and unnerving) laughter of some audience members. Fortunately, there is also some exceptional display of stagecraft and Clare Louise Connolly shines in the role of Regan. The production isn't steadily supported by the rest of the cast and I agree with Lukowski that appears unnecessarily subservient to the film. For this reason, it could more successfully appeal to commercial theatregoers rather than discerning theatre lovers. 

tastemaker

 As a horror film buff, I was buzzing to see this play that I hadn't heard many reviews about, which is how I like my plays so they aren't tainted in my mind. As the lights suddenly went off after a loud bang and a flash of white light, the audience unanimously screamed then giggled to hide their embarrassment. There were numerous moments throughout that had me grabbing the hand of my friend next to me. The special effects were genuinely impressive, in particular when Regan's head span around. I found the actor who portrayed Regan absolutely brilliant. She absolutely nailed lip syncing to Sir Ian McKellen's deliriously charming voice as the devil and her ability to scare the living daylights out of me was incredible. It's a delightfully short performance, only spanning 100 minutes without an interval, keeping you gripped the entire time. Quite a lot of people left during the performance, perhaps it might have been the sexual abuse content? Kudos to the costume, hair and makeup team for the seamless changes in Regan's appearance and the set design team for creating such an adaptable set. 

tastemaker

I really enjoyed this production! Having loved but been terrified by the film I was pretty nervous what to expect - I couldn't even get through the film version of the Women in Black, let alone the theatre one!


The Pheonix theatre is a great theatre in a fab location and was an excellent choice for this production. The whole story is fairly close to the film, it is a very faithful retelling of the story so don't go expecting something completely new and innovative. However, what they do they do well. I was scared silly in parts and gripped for the entire time. 


The staging was excellent and really helped move the audience through different areas, the sound and light was also superb. I found it scary while not being terrifying which is a great place to be!

tastemaker

This review is coming from someone who has never seen the original Exorcist (Shock horror I know!) in anything more than passing pop culture references and satire like "Scary Movie". So from the get go this was always going to be a big experience for me. I arrived with ten minutes to go and was informed that there was to be no interval, didn't worry me too much as I pride myself on having sat through all of "The Wolf Of Wall Street" without having to go to the bathroom! The late Friday showing for Halloween had certainly attracted the revellers who were looking to get into the Halloween mood with a scary play. Their presence was an unwelcome stimulus. The advertising that was all over London was constantly warning you of the terrifying aspects of the play and the reinforced "over 18s" recommendation ; thankfully the fair weather thrill seeker had under estimated the advertising. The play started off with a bang, literally; and the revellers obnoxious chat quickly changed to screams and sublimed back to embarrassed laughter. Neither the obnoxious chat nor embarrassed laughter lasted a fraction into the production. I can't be sure whether the reason for that was the crucifix scene or the lack of an interval but either was I was happy. That said I have a high tolerance for fear and a modest ability to predict scares but the rats certainly put me in my place. Even in hindsight i'm pleasantly surprised that there wasn't a single time that I associated Ian McKellans off-screen performance with his plunging Balrog scene. The air of a 70s horror film was well communicated through the production and a real treat for someone in my situation! 

Tastemaker

I was skeptical as to how they would tell this rather gory tale of demonic possession,I have to say. There were some great things about the show- The effects are top notch and the actors are very capable. That being said,I was right to have my reservations. Major holes in this show is that it lingers on the adults in the situation and we have to wait until the last 20 minutes of the show to get that intensity of Regan in her room being banished by Priests performing their exorcism. I felt that the main reason why this story had legs to be a stage version,was that most of the film/story takes place in the bedroom,which could have leant to a wonderfully claustrophobic and terrifying theatre experience. Instead we darted from the depths of (what i think) India to down town where our hunky priest (Adam Garcia) boxes frantically on a punch bag.In between we get a lot of outside the bedroom too. It felt like a festival of over budgeting. Yes we have Ian McKellen as the voice,yes we have a whole host of large CV'd actors and our young Regan is the spit of the young girl in the film. I loved the holograms,cleaver projections and the set in general was fab. What it lacked was being scary. What it lacked was just getting on with the main slice of the story- The Exorcism. I also felt the actors were not yet familiar with the set.I very clearly saw Regan clear her face of her wig hair whilst babbling demonic riddles. Our Priests were unable to handle with all the high drama AND the curtains blowing in their faces and the pillows strewn around the stage. It's not slick. It needs more work. It could be very good. I say take a punt on this, if you are a horror fan, but try and get cheap tickets!

tastemaker

Before seeing this play I was very curious as to if/how they would be able to recreate the special effects from the movie in a play (I have to confess is was unaware that it was a book before the movie until I read the Timeout description). I was slightly worried it would be too focused on the special effects and become quite gimmicky but they've managed to balance it out really well. For the fans of the headspin - that's in there (I can't for the life of me figure out how they did it!) and they've made really good use of realistic looking projections on the staging without taking away from the acting and the story. I was incredibly impressed the the acting of the woman that played Regan, and when she mimes to the voiceover of Sir Ian McKellan's demon (amazing by the way) the timing is perfect. 


So how scary is it? I'd say about a 6 out of 10. I don't want to give away too much for those that haven't seen it but there are some really jumpy moments, however, they do overplay their hand on occasion by repeating the same scare tactics. There's also some quite offensive content in there so if you scare easily or might be offended by that then this once isn't for you.


I love the set design, it's split up into different sections so each "scene" is lit up when it's in focus then placed into darkness when another section is being played out. This means there is no need to set changes. In fact there isn't even an interval which I wasn't aware of beforehand. They only announced it just as the show was about to start to make sure you get your drinks in and empty your bladder beforehand! However, it isn't a long play so it didn't matter that there was no interval, but people were getting up to go to the bathroom during the performance which was a little distracting.

tastemaker

Ok guys so I went to the 9pm showing on Friday without any idea of what to expect. I have been to the theatre to watch various other plays etc but never horror so believe me when I tell you I was very underprepared for what I got myself in for. Luckily for me the Phoenix Theatre is a short walk from Tottenham Court Road so I was basically able to run all the way to get myself on the tube.

Firstly as you walk in it’s a pretty standard vision of the west end theatres, all equally beautifully presented. We were shown to out seats which were in the stalls with a great view and not too close to the front as I fear I may have wet myself if I sat any closer.  The whole production was really well written with numerous frightful encounters, those familiar with the movie you may already be aware of the storyline but this takes it to another immersive experience. Really enjoyed this but not for the faint hearted, didn’t really sleep the whole night but that’s just proof of how great it was as that’s all I thought about. 


I LOVED THIS!!! And I would highly recommend it!!!

I haven’t seen the film, I know deprived childhood!! But I guess I knew the premise - girl possessed, head spins around, exorcist comes to get rid of the demon.

What made this play insane is the amazing visual effects. Things crawling about, faces jumping out and of course the cringe worthy head spinning!!!

This is not one for the faint hearted and I’m not just talking about the horror elements there’s also some pretty gross sexual stuff in there too. No different to the film I assume?!?!

Honestly if you are a horror fan you should defiantly check this one out!

tastemaker

I am utterly terrified of horror films, however my sister is not - she loves them! So this was the perfect halloween treat - FOR HER! i squeezed her hand the whole way through, i'm pretty sure she thinks its broken.


Anyway the show - the use of lighting created fear and suspense in a way I had not experienced at a show before. As neither of us had seen the film we can't really compare, however the set was simple but effective with the use of projections showing flash backs/moments of time. Ian Mckellen as the demon voice over was great, a real highlight of the show, his deep, sarcastic voice further terrifying me and making me jump.


tastemaker

As a young and foolish 13 year old, I decided that it was wise to watch the film The Exorcist alone. Big mistake, this film had be sleeping in my sisters bed for months. Now as a mature(ish) 28 year old, I felt that I was ready to watch this horror in theatre (this time with a friend). Although not as scary as the film, the performance had me sat on the edge of my seat the whole way through and on occasions had me jumping out of my seat. 


The set design was very much like the scenes in the film (but more modern) and the effects were very impressive. The only negative point I can make is that I found some of the actors quite irritating especially the girls mother, her acting didn't come across as natural as the others. However I thought the young girls performance was amazing.... 

tastemaker

How can a theatre show really be a horror? I thought the same thing before I saw Woman in Black on the stage, and ended up nearly jumping out of my skin it was so scary. The Exorcist has just topped that. It is genuinely one of the most thrilling performances I’ve seen and kept me on a knife-edge the whole way through.

The staging is absolutely brilliant.

I love that you can order drinks from your seat before the show- within 3 minutes of ordering on the ATG app, drinks were delivered to us in a bag- thank goodness because the bars were closed and I’m not sure I would’ve got through the show without a glass of wine!

Beyond the easy jump scares there’s a psychological and edge running through the entire play which builds brilliantly towards the conclusion.

It’s the perfect Halloween treat- ditch the usual scary movie and come to the Phoenix to see this instead.

tastemaker

What a way to start off Halloween!!

I remember watching the original movie years ago and never recovering!

Luckily that wasn't the case here. It wasn't as scary so rest assured you won't walk away as traumatised!

I think they did a decent job however, the actors weren't very good apart from the possessed girl.

It wasn't great but it wasn't bad .. A few moments of chill factor and flashing lights which enhanced the experience! But beware...if you cant take strong language this may not be for you as its very colourful when it comes to the language!

I wouldn't go out of my way to recommend but if a friend happened to purchase tickets for it i wouldn't deter them from going :)

tastemaker

I've never seen the movie and after seeing the show I don't think I'll be watching the film for a while! It's such a gripping psychological thriller, definitely not what I had expected! Having seen the woman in black and being scared half to death I thought this would be quite similar but boy was I wrong. This production was faultless with the set design, the changing scenes, the use of projection and the moving props, making it feel like you are watching a movie at times (but its live!). The actress playing Regan definitely portrayed the disturbed possessed girl brilliantly and at moments I had to close my eyes or look away as I genuinely was terrified! 

However, I feel the voice for the devil should have been a little more spine-chilling to add the extra fear factor to the production, but the comedic one liners made up for it.

All in all, not your typical theatre show night out but perfect for Halloween!

tastemaker

Impressive set design split into sections/rooms - a couple of scares that make you jump!

However the show itself didn’t have me on the edge of my seat as I expected! The scares were few, although the special effects were pretty impressive on stage.

I thought the voice chosen for the evil/devil spirit was wrong - it made it almost comedic rather than creepy.

I had never watched the original film so I had nothing to compare it to other than years worth of hype which sadly this didn’t live up to.

Tastemaker

From better to worse: The set design is impressive--split into sections, the production folds seamlessly between settings. The special effects are intermittently impressive--the loud noises and bright sparks of light get a bit repetitive after a while, but it's interesting to see the technical wizardry, which is varying degrees of ingenious. The acting is hard to take seriously, and there are so many middle-aged, pale, large male characters who resemble each other that it's hard to remember which is which. The plot is tedious at points.


If you are a fan of the film..... If you regard acting talent essential to a production..... If you require more that just some rather good special effects during a night out at the theatre, I would suggest you give this one a wide berth.

The biggest disappointment, other the shortage of acting talent on the stage, is Sir Ian Mckellan’s urbane sounding demon voice recordings. One would have thought that such a gifted performer would have mined a little deeper and darker to chanel Mercedes McCambridge rather than a potty-mouthed Gandolf.


I was really looking forward to the exorcist but I was not sure what to expect at all.

Right from the second it started, I was hooked. I would love to say the audience was too but I couldn't break eye contact with the show to see peoples expressions.

I don't scare easily at all but my heart was pounding, it was chilling and thrilling right from the start.

I haven't seen the exorcist film in quite some time so I couldn't quite remember all of it but even if you was expecting it to happen, it's so different happening in front of your eyes than it is on a screen. It really does feel real.

The lighting and special effects used were spectacular and really gave it the eerieness needed.

The acting was incredible by the whole cast and they really drew you in.

Would seriously recommend watching this.

5 out of 5.


In preparation for this theatrical version, I watched the movie again in order to jog my memory. 

As one of the greatest horror movies ever made and one of my all time favourites, I felt that this process was setting up the theatrical version to fail........I regretted the booking initially as I had gone on the strength of the poster and advertising and I thought maybe I should have played it safe and gone for the "Phantom of the Opera" instead.


It was excellent.......devilishly jumpy and the humour was cleverly embroidered in the dialogue without losing the horror of it all. The feel, the shadows, the shafts of light were all there, particularly the classic Exorcist in the beam of light image.


I wont provide any spoilers, however even if you know the story and the film, it is thoroughly and horribly enjoyable.


The highlights were Clare Louse Connelly (Regan), her body and head coordination along with the timing of her dialogue, was head and shoulder above everyone else.....if you mind the pun.

The excellent and delicious humour of Tristram Wymark (Burke) was definitely on the mark with this performance.


So what are you waiting for.......Its the power of good & evil that compels you!  Book now!