With more tricks than Houdini, THE EXORCIST is a nostalgic revival of the classic 1973 film, paying homage to its unique narrative and direction
All your favourite horror tropes are hitting the Opera House as audiences call on Damien to resurrect the Oscar-winning thriller.
The live rendition of the supernatural tale continues the battle between good and evil, following 12-year-old Regan (Susannah Egdley) after she becomes possessed by a demon. Inspired by real events, the head-turning narrative has been assisted by director Sean Mathias and writer John Pielmeier, who have lovingly translated the classic film to the stage. Recreating the intricately controlled dummies and strings that were used in the cult film, Mathias has seamlessly choreographed his own collection of haunting sequences that tackle Regan’s slow-moving demonic possession without the use of high-tech gadgets. Ensuring that they include Ouija boards, bed levitation and projectile vomit, THE EXORCIST filters the films blistering narrative into its most memorable moments to offer its diehard fans a familiar experience.
Centred around Regan’s encounter THE EXORCIST leans on a handful of characters who can decipher and narrate what is happening. Rooted in discussions surrounding religion and science, the show shadows Regan’s mother, Chris (Sophie Ward) as she attempts to rationalise the situation with doctors before finally calling on ghostbusters, Father Merrin (Paul Nicholas) and Father Joe (Joseph Wilkins) to combat the paranormal takeover. Within its dollhouse set design, its cast is encased in moonlit scenes for the entirety of the production, blinding the audience with strobes lights or carrying dim, eerie shades to test the audience’s faith in jump scares. Trapping its cast into the four corners of the two-tiered Opera House stage, the production is forced to strip back characters backstories and place scenes of exposition that are only clear to followers of the franchise.
Although the production upgrades the rudimental techniques used in the 1973 film, its ability to shock can be more distracting and demystifying than genuinely terrifying. The atmospheric production offers more tricks than Houdini with its unsettling discussions around faith and love that are contrasted by blood-soaked walls and projected deceptions. However, in an attempt to suspend the audience in darkness with subtle scares, the show takes a few detours from its film, offering new surprises to infuse the production in its own originality. Egdley embodies the vulnerable child, with an intense performance that sees her chained to a bed, swearing like a sailor and voraciously lip-syncing to Ian McKellen’s voice as the demon. McKellen’s voice booming out of the child devil is entertaining, but the iconic LORD OF THE RINGS actor is far from sinister.
While THE EXORCIST brought unmeasurable changes to the horror genre, its live production takes on a nostalgic revival of the classic, paying homage to its unique narrative and direction. Mimicking the illusions and lines from the film that has been parodied relentlessly in the 46 years since its release, the copycat stage show suffers for its basic imitation. Although overshadowed by the original, horror fans will still relish in this isolated take that waters down the unmistakably suspenseful story with a glossy production of the supernatural classic.
THE EXORCIST runs at the Opera House, Manchester until 26 October 2019
Frances Scott is a graduate of the MA Contemporary Literature and Film course at Manchester Metropolitan University. As a content writer, she has worked with The Reviews Hub, Northern Soul and frequently posts theatre reviews on her website www.101Frances.com. You can also follow her on Instagram (101Frances) and Twitter (@FrancesScott1).