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The fear factor of the classic horror film fails to translate to the stage version of the Exorcist

 

THE first thunderclap that shakes a pitch-black auditorium is enough to set off gasps and frightened squeals rippling in its wake.

The audience, probably more used to films than the stage, are in nail-biting anticipation of the same non-stop terror that overwhelmed cinemagoers – me included – when the iconic movie swept to award-winning success some 44 years ago.

 Clare Louise Connolly plays Regan in the stage adaptation of the Exorcist Clare Louise Connolly plays Regan in the stage adaptation of the Exorcist

But it doesn’t work out like that.

Nervous gulps and occasional giggles replace stifled screams as John Pielmeier’s adaptation of the William Peter Batty book proceeds at a clip yet rarely hits the horror high spots.

But don’t knock the shock, or lack of it.

That the shut-your- eyes fear quota never really engages is not fault of illusion designer Ben Hart.

 The set design of the stage production is cleverly done and convincing The set design of the stage production is cleverly done and convincing  The original film was released in 1973 and shocked audiences with its goreRex Features The original film was released in 1973 and shocked audiences with its gore

When the devil occupies the body of 12-year- old Regan (Clare Louise Connolly), the creation of every devilish trick at his command – 360-degree head-spinning, projections of vomit and blood, and obscene writing magically appearing on her bedroom wall – is cleverly and convincing accomplished.

It’s just that much more can be achieved on film than when live action is practically in the face of an eagle-eyed audience.

There are plusses, however: Jenny Seagrove is superb and unerringly American as Regan’s distraught movie star mother and director Sean Matthias drives the plot along with a series of tense short scenes as the exorcism approaches.

And, to give the devil his due, the obscenity-laced threats and boasts that pour from poor Regan’s mouth are chillingly voiced by Sir Ian McKellen, who as Magneto in the X-Men movies had plenty of practise at perfecting demonic evil.

The Exorcist at the Phoenix Theatre, London

★★★

 

 

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