Adapting a book or film for the stage is a daunting task (or so I’ve been told). People will always interpret things differently and if it’s not performed as they themselves imagine it there can quite often be an uproar.
This is what lay ahead for John Pielmeier as he undertook the task of adapting the 1971 cult-classic, The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty for the stage at Birmingham Rep.
I’ve always been intrigued about seeing something ‘scary’ at the theatre. I’m not talking about loud bangs and flashes of light, but something which terrifies and leaves you shivering after the performance. I had high hopes for The Exorcist.
The show begins like many other plays, with a scene of a loving mother and daughter – something which is a million miles away from the blood, blasphemy and foul language which is yet to come. Ten year old Regan (Clare Louise Connolly) and mother Chris (Jenny Seagrove) are the clear stars of the show. The mother-daughter bond is strong between the two as beaming smiles and fits of laughter light up a somewhat dark stage. It’s this bond which is pushed to its limits when Regan is possessed by the Devil himself and atheist Chris turns to the Catholic church, in the form of Father Joe (Joseph Wilkins), Father Damien Karras (Adam Garcia) and Father Merrin (Peter Bowles) for help. As Regan gradually transforms into the demon who has taken over her body, soul and mind, Father Karras must face his own demons following the death of his mother. Much of the play centres around the bedroom in which Regan is confined to, however there are break away scenes which slowly introduce the holy men and tell their stories.
Whilst the show lacks some of the more iconic movie scenes such as when Regan crawls down the stairs backwards – which realistically they couldn’t do unless Clare Connolly was secretly a contortionist – it is still filled with many other special effects which demonstrate the Devil’s power and control. From blood on the walls to things going bump in the night, tension is built up ahead of the final showdown.
I would have liked to have seen more of Father Merrin’s back story in the adaptation. During his encounter with the devil it’s alluded to that they have faced each other before but it’s not explained how or why.
The show provides plenty of thrills and chills throughout and is not for those without a strong constitution. Whether you’ve seen the film, read the book or neither, it is worth a watch if you enjoy a good fright.
The Exorcist runs until 5 November at Birmingham Rep. For more information and to book tickets visit www.birmingham-rep.co.uk