Translating any genre of film from screen to stage can be a tricky feat, let alone a well loved classic and a staple of the horror genre. In choosing to bring The Exorcist to the theatre, The Classic Screen to Stage Theatre Company were certainly challenging themselves, and whilst the script itself did show some of these issues, the overall experience was suitably haunting.
Credit should be given to Anna Fleischle, multi-award winning costume and set designer; the stage was truly impressive, with the proscenium arch of the Kings theatre transformed into a cold and creepy house. The second layer added to the top of the set in order to represent the attic in which Reagan (Sussanah Edgely) first encounters the demon was particularly effective. Use of stained glass windows in order to create the impression that the religious presence of the church was never far away was also impressive, creating a haunting atmosphere and harkening back to the film’s famous cover image. The shadow and projections by Jon Driscoll, Gemma Carrington and Ben Hart were effective, and when teamed with Phillip Gladwell’s jump-worthy lighting design, the audience were on the edge of their seats.
It is unfortunate, however, that the script did not quite live up to this fear-factor so readily formed by the creatives. There were often times where lines appeared clichéd, and I found myself wondering, “surely that wasn’t in the original?”. I suppose here lies the fundamental issue with such an adaptation; scenes and language that work in a film, and furthermore a film from 1973, do not necessarily translate well to a modern day stage. The production seemed to be slightly in the midst of an identity crisis in regards to what time period it was supposedly in.
Whilst the American accents of some of the cast were not particularly up to scratch, two performers truly stood out for me. Excluding Ian Mckellen, of course, (whose voice recording remains from the original production), Paul Nicholas, as Father Merrin, and Susannah Edgely as Reagan, were exceptional. A late addition to the play, Father Merrin enters as an old adversary to the devil, determined to encounter and defeat him once again. Nicholas’ entry was impressive and watchable, and felt far more natural than that of the other characters.
Edgely had perhaps the most challenging job of all: not only playing down her age to that of a twelve year old, but a twelve year old possessed, writhing and inappropriate. For the most part, she carried this off very well, creating a suitably creepy and unsettling aura to her character. However, I was slightly disappointed in the chemistry between Edgely and Sophie Ward, who played Chris Macneal, Reagan’s mother. Whilst there were moments that felt genuine, for the most part their interactions felt laboured and stiff.
Still, the efforts of the phenomenal backstage team did succeed in creating a frightful tone to the production. A part of me wishes the production had to rely on jump-scares ever so slightly less, and that the cast had contributed to this effect more.
PHOTOS: Kings Theatre