The Exorcist in the West End – how the theatre version stacks up

Horror fan? Then the power of Christ compels you to visit London’s Phoenix Theatre, where The Exorcist is running in a limited season until 10 March 2018. We checked out a preview to find out what it’s like.

It’s about the length of the film

Not for this play the faff of an interval. The Exorcist clocks in at 100 minutes long, meaning it’s a filmic theatre experience – but that’s not to say this is a straight stage version of the movie. The play’s writer, John Pielmeier, used William Peter Blatty’s book, not the film, as his source material, and there are some fairly major deviations from the movie. Some are due to artistic vision; some, you suspect, are for practicality. Well, you try fitting an enormous outdoor staircase into a theatre.

The sound alone is pretty scary

Some of the best jumps come from sound and lighting effects – even a flash of lightning and crack of thunder are enough to have some of the audience screaming. Really, it’s not quite as shocking as the film, famously banned from 1986 to 1999 in the UK, but what it does, it does well. One scene of eye wincing self-mutilation almost dares you not to look away.

Ian McKellan is devilishly good

He’s not actually there on stage, but Ian McKellan steals the show as the voice of the devil, which Clare Louise Connolly, as Regan, mouths along to. McKellan plays lines for laughs and menace as he taunts Regan’s family and the priests trying to exorcise him – and he revels in what must be some of the filthiest dialogue ever heard on the West End stage. Expect to hear the c-word  a couple of times.

Yes, there’s a head-spinning scene

The infamous head-spinning bit, when the demon displays its dominion on Regan by turning her head all the way around, is a bit of a calling card for The Exorcist, and even though it’s hardly in the realm of how-did-they-do-that stuff, it’s still a pretty cool moment in the play. Elsewhere before your very eyes: the bed bouncing violently, pea soup vomit and, yep, that cruxifix scene. Do not go to see this play with the ‘rents.

The Exorcist is at London’s Phoenix Theatre now