Review: The Exorcist - Dare you watch as Regan's head spins in this chilling production at the Edinburgh King's?
THE darkness is all encompassing in much the same way that, throughout the one hour and 50 minutes that the actors are on stage, the silence in the auditorium is complete - punctuated only by the odd communal gasp as those present remember to breath.
KING'S THEATRE, Leven Street
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So begins The Exorcist.
When the movie version of William Peter Blatty’s novel The Exorcist first opened in cinemas back in 1973, it proved controversial. There were reports of film-goers fainting and vomiting at some of its more graphic scenes as the tale of demonic possession terrified a generation. Nearly 50 years on, some of that shock value may have dissipated, but this new stage production still manages more than its fair share of jump scares while boasting some truly shocking moments not for the faint of heart.
A delicious piece of theatrical grand-guignol, this touring production from Bill Kenwright Productions ticks all the right boxes. Chilling, disturbing and supremely unsettling, it plays on our primeval fears and beliefs with a relentless intensity.
The story revolves around a possessed child, Regan, the 12-year-old daughter of film star Chris MacNeil, played by the always believable Sophie Ward. When the demon - a gloriously salacious voice-over dripping with threat and violent intent from Ian McKellen - grows stronger and Regan weaker, drastic measures must be taken.
Enter Father Merrin, an exorcist, played with pious dignity by Paul Nicholas.
As the action plays out on Anna Fleischle’s claustrophobic if cramped staging, all the signature moments are present in John Pielmeier’s taut script. The language is ribald and explicit, the tension palpable.
Scenes laced with melodrama are played with complete conviction and if the stage fighting needs tightened up, the supernatural threat remains visceral. Much of this is down to Adam Cork’s downright creepy sound design and Ben Hart’s brilliant illusions - yes, Regan’s head does indeed turn 360 degrees, drawing squeals of shocked delight from the audience.
Never one to miss a trick, Hart and Cork ensure this is edge of the seat stuff, even the occasionally creaky set lends to the atmosphere.
They may not be vomiting in the aisles anymore, but The Exorcist still has the power to tap into the collective psyche and send a ice-like shiver down the spine.