Latest Review – The Exorcist [Opera House, Manchester]

Photo by TheOtherRichard


Opera House, Manchester

Until Saturday 26th October 2019

A theatrical adaptation of perhaps the greatest horror movie of them all was always going to have exceptionally high expectations to live up to, and on occasion those expectations are met, though despite the odd moment of real promise, the production fails to capture the intense horror of the iconic film and novel, and for the most part proves an underwhelming and lacklustre affair.

Sean Mathias’ production has a lot of promise; the auditorium is suitably dark and misty as the audience enters, the early build up is effective – notably Regan’s first encounter with ‘Captain Howdy’ via Ouija board – and the production designs work very well in establishing the unsettling tone for the piece, but elsewhere, things tend to be rather problematic.

The Woman In Black is of course the definitive stage horror and delivers a masterclass in slow-burning tension and spine-tingling scares, but in John Pielmeier’s rather melodramatic adaptation, the structure feels too formulaic, and the production seems to rush through the film’s ‘greatest hits’, so to speak, without giving us enough of the intense, psychological depth in between.

Some of the film’s famous scenes are recreated, but the production feels limited in what it is capable of achieving, and the repetitive cycle of jump-scare style blackouts, lengthy blinding strobes and screams (with a lack of any genuine tension) slowly begins to feel tiresome.

Even the great Sir Ian McKellen as the recorded voice of the demon struggles to save things; in fact he’s rather miscast in the role and sounds too much like his warm and kindly self. In contrast to the harsh, cackling voice of Mercedes McCambridge in the original film, McKellen’s delivery is too polished and never as sinister or malevolent as it needs to be.

One of the show’s main issues however is the sound, and for a production of this sort it seems odd that the cast are not mic’d up fully for the duration of the show. At last night’s press performance the cast were forced to contend with some of the worst audience behaviour I’ve ever witnessed in a theatre, which of course did not help matters, but this is a production which relies on loud bangs, eerie underscoring and sudden shrieks, and even in those rare moments of audience stillness, many of the cast struggle to project over the noise – particularly when delivering lines upstage – meaning far too many of the lines are lost. McKellen’s voice recording too is often far too quiet and only has a real impact when played at high volume through the auditorium’s surround speakers.

Fans of the film may take more from this production than most, and revel in seeing some of their favourite scenes recreated in the flesh, but aside from the odd strong moment, and a fairly solid cast, the overall impact is absent and it too often fails to hit the mark.

Running Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes (approx.), including one 20-minute interval.

Final Performance at the Opera House, Manchester: Saturday 26th October 2019.

For more information, and to book tickets, please Click Here.

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