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The Exorcist, The Repertory Theatre, Birmingham - Review and pictures

Birmingham | Entertainment | Published:

A sudden clash of thunder and the room went pitch black. Screams erupted. The chilling tale of Regan McNeil has begun.

Joseph Wilkins as Father Joe and Clare Louise Connolly as Regan in The Exorcist

John Pielmeier has taken on the task of adapting William Peter Blatty's classic novel and the iconic William Friedkin film the Exorcist, complete with spooky effects and sickening gore.

A daunting task indeed - The Exorcist is known for it's shocking scenes of blasphemy and gore, would they transfer to the stage with ease? That was something I was itching to find out.

I was instantly lulled into a false sense of security by the genuinely loving and heartfelt relationship of innocent youngster Regan and movie star power-mum Chris as they lark around in a new city accompanied by comical and raunchy Uncle Burke, unaware of the horrors to come.

Jenny Seagrove as Chris and Peter Bowles as Father Merrin in The Exorcist

These scenes were juxtaposed against the troubled and brooding Father Damien Karras struggling with the guilt of losing his loving mother, portrayed expertly with projections of his screaming mother and ghostly, muffled moans that embed themselves upon your self conscious.

Tension steadily mounts as Regan succumbs to the possession of Captain Howdy, in scenes where she is isolated, surrounded by a black apparition and talking to a deep, ethereal voice.

The interchangeable set creates different locations and throws you right into the horror, coupled with the use of spine-tingling music and sound effects, and realistic special effects.

Claire Louise Connolly portrayed Regan's descent into hell magnificently. As lights flickered, drawers flew and sculptures shot off her bedside table her mannerisms changed with each spirit that shot to the forefront. She was un-phased by the foul language and vulgar acts that her character portrayed and embraced the evil full throttle. As a horror fan, I can honestly say that I have not seen many actresses do better.

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Clare Louise Connolly as Regan and Adam Garcia as Father Damien Karras in The Exorcist

Equally, Jenny Seagrove as Chris tugged at the audiences heartstrings as her raw heartache at the loss of her daughter and the horror that her life had become unfolded in front of her eyes.

This culminates as she is told her daughter may need an exorcism following the shocking death of Uncle Burke at the hands of Regan, and that she must call on priest-psychologist Father Karras.

Adam Garcia showed the duality and pain Karras goes through as he loses his faith and battles with the demons that torture him through Regan. His performance was painful to watch in part as his struggle was almost tangible, and his pain frighteningly real.

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When the exorcism is approved, Peter Bowles as Father Merrin enters - re-enacting THAT famous film still as if it had been plucked straight from the movie itself.

Adam Garcia as Father Damien Karras Clare Louise Connolly as Regan and Peter Bowles as Father Merrin in The Exorcist

The performance culminated in an extravaganza of moving wall paper, messages in blood mystically appearing across the walls, lights flickering, demonic dual voices exploding our ear drums, projectile vomiting, gratuitous language, exploding windows, flying blood and two priests battling to restore normality - It was breathtaking.

As all seems lost and evil seemed to have won, Karras takes the demon into himself and slit his throat to demolish Satan himself, with blood spurting across the stage for one last glimpse of horror.

The production ended with ominous bells tolling, and Regan and Chris re-uniting and crying softly into each others arms as those around them lie dead. It is a happy ending, but remained chilling much like the rest of the production.

I was pleasantly surprised to be utterly shocked and repulsed by The Exorcist at Birmingham's Repertory Theatre. It is a mammoth task to transfer such an iconic book and film onto the stage whilst still maintaining the elements it is best known for - but the cast executed their respective characters and the horror expertly by sucking in the audience, chewing their emotions up and spitting them out.

For a real fright this Halloween, head to the Rep.

By Becci Stanley

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