The Exorcist is based on the 1973 horror film of the same name. The film scared audiences so much one reviewer said there was so much vomit in the bathroom at the showing that he couldn’t get to the sinks. Its catalyst is when Regan, a 12-year-old girl, starts exhibiting horrifying physical, mental, and sexual symptoms. It is suggested that she is possessed.
The play started off with a massive bomb sound and the lights slamming off. When ‘Dracula’ at the Kings did the same thing a year ago, I accepted my death instantly. This year, I felt an affinity for the noise, and welcomed it like an old friend. My heart rode a horse and cantered over a hillock.
After that, the play became silly. Every single scene ended with a loud explosion of some sort. Often, the previous scene was funny, so the crash of symbols in a reaction of horror at what has come to pass made the audience laugh even more. In one scene, Regan masturbates with a crucifix. Even the cast seemed on the edge of corpsing in this scene. In fact, the cast seemed completely removed from their characters’ horror. They focused almost entirely on sounding like characters from a 1970s film, but as a result rushed through the scenes and didn’t invest in their physicality or facial expressions. The lines expressed fear and darkness, but the cast stood blank faced and wooden-bodied. The priests pottered about like gardeners while exorcising the devil himself.
The set design (Anna Fleischle) created hotspots of atmospheric strength. One of my favourites was that there was a high window above the house where most of the play takes place, which evoked the sense that the characters were stuck down in hell. Through the window, there was a beautiful, dreamlike mist, that I yearned to fly up and out into. Nearby, the colours of the stained glass in a church where two characters converse were on the edge of being satanic, which removed a lot of comfort surrounding the idea of religion and the power of God. Overall, though, the set had a plasticky look to it, and the numerous rooms on stage and constant set changes felt very cluttered. This meant the audience couldn’t envelop themselves in the world of the play. There were things constantly telling them it wasn’t real.
This show was fun in places to watch, and it made me laugh a lot. I’ll give it three stars because its humour meant it wasn’t tedious. It was clear, however, that the show tried hard to evoke the darkness of evil. The way it failed is quite a sorry state of affairs for everyone involved.
The Exorcist runs at the King’s Theatre until 9 November 2019.