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The Exorcist at Birmingham Rep - Review

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by dpm (subscribe)
dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
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Classic horror movie hits the stage
It's been more than 40 years since William Peter Blatty's novel and William Friedkin's movie The Exorcist scared the living daylights out of millions of people, but the tale of a young girl possessed by a demon still has the power to shock.

And this new stage production, which premieres at Birmingham Repertory Theatre in time for Halloween, keeps the shock factor at its heart. In many ways it's the lighting, the special effects and the music which ensures this Exorcist keeps audiences on the edge of their seats. Directed by Sean Mathias and adapted for the stage by John Pielmeier, it manages to stay true to much that is remembered from the film including the infamous scene of projectile vomiting and there's even a touch of head-spinning.

the exorcist, birmingham rep, priests, demons, halloween, jenny seagrove, peter bowles
A young girl is possessed in The Exorcist


From the outset, Tim Mitchell's lighting is tenebrous with sudden stark spotlights and light switches at key moments. Adam Cork's music and sound and Anna Fleischle's design contribute to the sense of menace there's a beating heart to the production which it's never quite possible to turn off. Throw in some clever effects from video and projection designer Duncan McLean and illusion designer Ben Hart and there are plenty of visual tricks - with writing suddenly appearing on walls and strange mists enveloping characters.

That's not to say there aren't also some strong performances in the production not least from Clare Louise Connolly as the child turned demon Regan. Connolly brilliantly transforms from a cute, loveable ten year old who tells her mum she loves her into a writhing, spitting, cursing monster. It's that cuteness which makes her actions and the awful and disturbingly sexual language which spews from her lips so hideous.

Connolly is given ample support from Jenny Seagrove as her tortured mum Chris a woman who states she has no belief in God and yet believes her daughter's only hope lies in exorcism. Adam Garcia plays the young priest psychiatrist Damien Karras a man fighting his own demons who initially tells Chris exorcism is from the 16th century and is finally forced not only to believe but to participate in the rite.

the exorcist, movie, birmingham rep, horror, sean mathias
Jenny Seagrove and Peter Bowles in The Exorcist


In fact, the only weak point in the production is Peter Bowles' Father Merrin, the exorcist. Bearing in mind his appearance is the culmination of the story and his fierce determination to rid Regan of her demons is her only hope, it is hard to accept that his somewhat nonchalant character would be capable of fighting with the child's possessor. His deadpan approach to the exorcism gives the impression he's rather bored of the whole thing and sees battling with the devil as being on a par with a quiet cup of tea in front of the fire.

Produced by Birmingham Repertory Theatre and Bill Kenwright, there are high hopes for The Exorcist. Those who love the book or the movie are unlikely to be disappointed and there are plenty of 'jump' moments to keep audiences alert. But the final scenes, which should have us all cowering behind our cushions and terrified for the fate of all involved in the exorcism, are sadly rather an anti-climax.

The Exorcist is listed as having an age guidance of 18 . For more information see birmingham-rep.co.uk
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Why? 1970's classic horror film is adapted for the stage
When: until November 5
Phone: 0121 236 4455
Where: Birmingham Rep
Cost: from 15
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