The Opera House Manchester was plunged into darkness suddenly at the start of press night for famous horror story The Exorcist. Shrieks of surprise rippled across the audience as cast members walked amongst us in the blackout, and strobe lights left us all blinking and apprehensive into the opening scenes.
Sadly that was about as much suspense as the two hour performance managed to build, as a true horror fan I found myself wanting more thrills. What this production did exceptionally well however, was to highlight the inner conflict in the disturbing tale between the non-possessed members of the cast creating a less fantasy world of demons and making it more naturalistic.
Exploring the idea of faith and beliefs we had all characters doubting themselves and their actions throughout and turning to various coping mechanisms as a result. Although this was great to explore the human angle and this idea of crisis of faith, it needed to be juxtaposed with a demon that was more genuinely threatening to make a more lasting impact.
It was exciting to have the voice of Ian McKellan as the demon, and although his playful voice-acting made the intelligence of the demon more real, somehow to production failed to emphasise the terror of the situation, so it fell a little flat and unthreatening most of the way through. Instead what I felt was just sadness that a young girl had had to go through such an awful ordeal.
There were efforts to modernise the story with the Doctor’s roles being much more aware of mental health and wellbeing which was encouraging and humanised the storyline even more.
The staging itself was clever, creating a space that felt like a creepy old house and having the whole performance inside it for the whole show is brave on such a big stage, but it worked to create the illusion.
Of course the stage production was always going to struggle with special effects and although the use of blackout and strobe at key moments was effective in the beginning, it was relied upon heavily to change scenes and move the timeline along at peak moments of horror. We were rewarded with all the key events from the film, with some nifty effects for Reagan’s head turning around and some knife work that I still can’t work out how they did it; but I did feel like in comparison to other stage trickery like Woman In Black and Harry Potter it was quite low budget and unimaginative.
The Exorcist is a great night out for fans of the film that are curious to see how it plays out on a stage, and it’s something fun and different to do for Halloween season. But if you are looking for something jumpy that will leave you unable to sleep at night, this probably isn’t it.
Reviewer: Jo Flynn
Reviewed: 22nd October 2019
North West End UK Rating: ★★★