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"Exorcist" at the Phoenix Theatre

UpdatesPosted by Henderson Sat, February 03, 2018 21:49:47

The Exorcist

Phoenix Theatre

Reviewed by Dr Terror

On my regular rail journeys to Bradley, the talk of every carriage is currently about which early seventies film smash will be next to appear on the London stage. The smart money is split between Earthquake and Dirty Harry.

Which brings us to the theatrical version of The Exorcist. Does it work? CAN it work? The answer, against all odds, is yes.

It works because the cast is a terrific one and no one ever sticks a tongue in their cheek and even thinks about sending it up. In spite of this, it's still a very close call. It's definitely a mistake to do the crucifix-as-dildo bit just before the interval. In fact, it's a mistake even to have an interval, something which fewer and fewer plays are doing now. The bar was consequently full of laughter and lewd re-enactment while the staff tried to flog an overpriced wine called The Velvet Devil.

And yet, despite all this frivolity, they pulled it off. My disbelief was suspended, no mean feat when you consider how ridiculous the plot is. Despite the sexual intentions behind the demon's possession of Regan being far more obvious here than in the film, nobody once queried whether there might be anything to fear in this regard from the priests themselves. Oh, and how about this: the demon talks with the voice of an uncredited Sir Ian McKellen?

So in spite of ALL of this, it still works. Peter Bowles in the title role, still widely thought of as a sitcom actor, exudes gravitas and compassion. Adam Garcia's Father Karras, now a fully-fledged 'psychiatrist-priest' (you don't find too many of them), and Jenny Seagrove 's despairing mother Chris both completely win our sympathy and Clare Louise Connelly as Regan is an absolute star.

And what, given whose website we're on, of Tristram Wymark playing Burke, the ill-fated film director (in fact, in this production, Regan predicts HIS death rather than that of a nervous astronaut)? The role is a bigger and more nuanced one than in the film. Although he's partly there as the light relief, his booze-addled mincing queen/tortured Catholic persona is never less than captivating - think Oliver Reed meets Larry Grayson meets Graham Greene - and there's something utterly fascinating about his resemblance to Patrick.

It was a tall order but it won me over 100%. In fact, I'll tell you this - and not just to annoy Mark Kermode (though, goodness knows, that's reason enough): it's better than the film.