Skip to main content

Review of The Exorcist at Milton Keynes Theatre, Milton Keynes

The 1973 film of The Exorcist is famous more for its content than its quality, and few, even die-hard fans would deny it's of its time to a certain extent. It is also a bold film to choose to stage, involving tricks aplenty and a heavy reliance on not turning the whole thing into a farce. So, does this stage version from John Pielmeier (original book by William Peter Blatty) work, or are we in for a demonic night of theatre?

The story, should you not know, is thin and relatively basic, revolving around the possession of 12-year old Regan by a demon calling himself playfully Captain Howdie. It is a sweeping statement to call it a story of satanic child abuse, but that if anything makes it clear to some of the strong content that contains within, and trust me when I say strong.

The first thing to know from this version over the 2017 original London staging (originally performed in 2012 in the US) is that for the tour it has been split by an interval, unfortunately, bar takings count over drama. This cries out to remain as a single act nail-biter, because so much of the first act is strong in shocks and creating tension, that to allow a 20-minute interval to weaken all this, lowers the strength of the second act. Spending this time in the bright lights of the foyer talking about all the tricks that are still to come is sadly a downer on proceedings.

However, getting beyond this, The Exorcist is a rip-roaring version of the film, maintaining many of the scenes familiar to fans of the film, although some are relocated for ease of recreations. We do lose the spider walk however, and the levitation scene has become a simple raise upright from the bed. However, much more is there and much of the rest is very cleverly staged.

The shock and scare value is there however, direct from the quick blast into darkness at the very beginning, to pieces of furniture flying and lights exploding. However, for all the shocks and jumps, the brooding tension works the best. Lightly playing noises into the scenes, and indeed atmosphere building sound as we take our seats helps create unease.

The cast is good, if not exceptional. Susannah Edgley is the best as possessed Regan, dealing with everything the story has to throw at her, and totally believable. It is almost an impossible role at times, but despite much of what is going on around her, you never doubt her performance. For much of the second act, Edgley has the challenge of lip-syncing the recorded words of the demon, and she does this cleanly and professionally.

Those recorded words for me exhibit one of the slight disappointments of the play, and no I can't believe I am going to complain about the input of one of our most famous actors. However, voiced by Ian McKellen (uncredited), his voice doesn't really work for the demon and he is simply too recognisable a voice as well. You feel at all times you want something tougher, more challenging from this demon, and Mckellen here is just too nice sounding.

Sophie Ward as Regan's mother Chris MacNeil is a good presence, exhibiting all the emotion of a woman in turmoil as her daughter is taken from her. Tristram Wymark as old-soak film director Burke Dennis provides most of the humour of the show, and always entertains and has beyond the demon himself, the best of the lines.

Sadly I was less convinced by both Fathers, both Ben Caplan's Father Damien Karras and Paul Nicholas' Father Merrin felt more than a little caricatured. Also, Nicholas especially, among others was difficult to understand, putting too much into his accent over clarity. Indeed this whole show, where we were seated front row of the circle was in need ear straining to follow at times. I checked with my companion of the evening to be sure that it wasn't my hearing, and they agreed this was not quite reaching us with any form of confidence.

Staging is good if a little odd at times. The set from Anna Fleischle looks fabulous in places, Regan's bedroom and the staircase to her bedroom, complete with a stain-glass window at the top, looks great. It does, however, have a rather strange tilt towards stage right, so, for those planning on booking, choose a seat audience left looking at the stage for the full benefit. Lighting is atmospheric from Philip Gladwell, but read into that, very dark at times, so, like some of the speech, if you find yourself a little way back, more straining may be required to see some of the action.

The Exorcist delivers everything you would expect of a stage adaptation. Most of the tricks are there, and for a touring production, they are generally recreated well. You might miss some moments from the film, but I doubt fans of horror would be totally disappointed, and it is a genre rarely exploited in theatre, so, for that at least, worth seeing. It is maybe not as frightening as you might hope, my hardened exterior didn't really jump much (this from someone who once had nightmares from an episode of Bergerac), and tension was limited. However, there is much to enjoy from this production, and if horror is your thing, you should catch it.

Atmospheric and filled with neat tricks which do the original book and film good service.

Performance reviewed: Tuesday 8th October 2019 at Milton Keynes Theatre, Milton Keynes.
The Exorcist runs at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 12th October 2019 before continuing its tour.

Further details about Milton Keynes Theatre can be found at

Popular posts from this blog

Review of The Full Monty at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

The 1997 film The Full Monty is one of the best regarded of relatively recent British films, due to it being both a warm and emotionally strong tale, solid comedy and a wealth of acting talent, and it's no surprise that its very theme has spawned an immensely successful touring stage version. It literally overflows with the opportunity to be performed in front of a, probably mostly female, audience, well, the final scene does, in any case. However, what of the rest, and how about for a male audience member? So to speak. Well, it was time to find out.

The first thing that is apparent from The Full Monty stage show, is how faithful this is to the film. Much of the show is what you have seen if you have seen the film, but translated cleverly to the stage, it feels just that little more real and gritty as well. It opens with a nicely staged scene of darkness and flashes of a torch as Gaz (Gary Lucy), his son Nathan (Fraser Kelly) and Dave (Kai Owen) break into their former factory wo…

Review of Dirty Dancing at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

I as a reviewer despise having to write negative reviews, although I suspect many reviewers revel in it, in a weird sort of way. They feel unfair as you know in theory that the performers especially are often just doing what they are told and their very best, well you hope so. Therefore as this tour of the iconic Dirty Dancing travels around the UK, I lay virtually all of the blame of how poor this show is on the director and producer, if that is unfair, I'll take that, but believe me, if you are ever going to, this is a shocker of a show at times.

I was a huge fan of the original film Dirty Dancing in its day, it was a standard little film, nothing award-winning, it just hit a nerve with many people, whether you swooned over Patrick Swayze, or had a crush on Jennifer Grey (hand up here). Baby coming of age through dance with teacher Johnny Castle was iconic cinema, and that is what makes this production so bitter tasting as it rumbles over the characters we grew up loving and ma…

Review of Flash Festival 2019: A Minute To Midnight by Ruminate Theatre Company at Castle Hill URC

Connie, Harper and Freya are in a flatshare. One night Freya brings home Imogen, a homeless girl she has befriended. So far, so simple, however, that is if we haven't already seen the rather dramatic opening sequence, a flashforward to what is to happen involving said new person and Freya herself.

A Minute to Midnight works on a few levels and fails on others, the story, that of some sort of miniature cult involving some sort of preparation for some sort of disastrous global event is far too vague at times, to allow its audience in. It leaves us occasionally bored and wanting more information to keep our interest.

Fortunately what is great are the performances, despite us frequently not totally getting their motives, the characters themselves are nicely rounded individuals. Freya is played with a finely developing way by Mia Leonie, initially in control of events with her new introduction, but gradually changing as things over time develop in a way she dislikes from the new girl.