I do not need to overview the story as it is a classic in the public psyche. An explicit tale of demon possession and religious dogma. A ‘hell is burning’ binge of a tale!
I have never read the bestselling book of 1971 and it has been ages since I saw the iconic film of 1973 based on story, so I am not really comparing this UK premiering play by John Pielmeier with anything that has gone before. I know this much, that this stage setting has not brought about anything which is trans-formative, as is often the case when a novel has been adapted for stage.
Yet the story lends itself very well to theatre and though it is such a brave undertaking, this is quite masterfully presented, and one thing, in early scenes, it is seriously creepy. The special effects and the artistry of creatives Ben Hart, Duncan McLean, Adam Cork, and Tim Mitchell, are the reasons why. Plus, a stand-out performance by Clare Louise Connolly as Regan, who gives it her all and is incredible, I felt quite exhausted for her. Though the exorcism scene itself, was weirdly unremarkable because by then we’d seen all the tricks.
Jenny Seagrove’s dialogue is delivered in an American accent without intonation and is quite weak, and so her happy voice is pitched much the same as her distraught one. This is problematic for Seagrove to handle, because the script does not turnaround things enough for her to deliver her motherly, come famous actress character, Chris, with much heart. And while I enjoyed the sauciness and sarcasm of Uncle Burke (Tristram Wymark), because of script limitations again, it made Regan’s worsening sorry state come across as nothing much more than a mild kerfuffle for these two supporting characters.
Fiction not working its best kind of magic, but I realise I am being nit-picking and that it is extremely challenging and because so many nails are hit squarely on the head with this one, I happily overlook the negatives in this instance. Themes are mature, but we expect that and the intensity of scenes are all the more powerful for it.
This lead up to Halloween an evil entity is at large at Birmingham Rep! It’s official, The Exorcist is theatrically enthralling!
Theatre critic, Debra Hall attended press night of The Exorcist at The Birmingham Repertory Theatre on Tuesday 25 october
photos: ROBERT DAY