Theatre Review: The Exorcist - Theatre Royal, Glasgow ✭✭✭✭

Review by Sharman Prince

When young Regan (Susannah Edgley) becomes host to a diabolical entity her desperate mother, Chris (Sophie Ward), is ultimately forced to seek out the aid of two Jesuit priests, Father Merrin (Paul Nicholas) and Father Karras (Ben Caplan) - the latter carrying his own troubles. Thus begins the gruelling confrontation between the soldiers of God and the emissary of Evil as the battle for Regan's soul commences.

William Peter Blatty's 1971 novel of demonic possession, The Exorcist, became a seminal movie in 1973 - with an Oscar-winning screenplay by the author himself - and now, following a West End run last year, the theatrical adaptation by John Pielmeier is trekking across the UK under the auspices of Bill Kenwright's 'Classic Screen to Stage Theatre Company'.

Pielmeier's script hits most of the iconic moments from the book (and film) but it is a trifle disappointing that the relationship between the demon and Merrin is given short thrift which, sadly, lends their final confrontation little of the weight it deserves. The play's ultimate conclusion also deserves more impact but this may be a staging issue for the director to address. That director is Sean Mathias who has Ian McKellen providing the voice of the demon; a device that proves their long association still pays great theatrical dividends but which also serves as a dramatic standard that the other performers have to meet. For the most part meet it they do and the conviction in their acting is solid and assured - negating the moments that are, perhaps inevitably, met with some laughter. There are moments where the pacing could be refined but Mathias, wisely, directs the piece with an air of simplicity that allows the atmosphere and tension to build palpably based on the performance of his cast who are aided in proceedings by the atmospheric design of Anna Fleischle, the eerie lighting of Philip Gladwell, the projections of Jon Driscoll and Gemma Carrington, the tremendous sound design by Adam Cork and the illusions of Ben Hart, all of which coalesce into a satisfying fun house of thrills that keeps the audience attentive and poised; waiting for the next inevitable scare.

As Father Merrin Paul Nicholas adds a gravitas to proceedings that appropriately shifts the tone of the play towards its climax when his titular presence is finally revealed whilst Tristram Wymark, as Burke, amiably leads a solid company that supports and contrasts against the sterner and darker performances of Sophie Ward and Ben Caplan who have the majority of the heavier moments, most of which are delivered with excellence. Susannah Edgley's performance as Regan is another positive of the production, and her physical unification with the voice of McKellen is both outstanding and unsettling.

Regardless of the quibbles I have (most of which will probably be rectified as the cast and crew settle into the play's run - this is still a fairly new production, after all) at its core The Exorcist is about faith and belief, about good and evil, and the play delivers both philosophically on that front and as a piece of thrilling entertainment which contains some truly disturbing and exciting moments.

The Exorcist is at the Theatre Royal Glasgow until Saturday 21st September. For tickets and information visit ATG Tickets.