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REVIEW: The Exorcist - Ghostlight Theatre


Redcliffe's Theatre 102 is currently hosting one of the most intense and enjoyable theatrical experiences of 2024, as Ghostlight Theatre and Redcliffe Musical Theatre present the Australian premiere of "The Exorcist." This adaptation of William Peter Blatty's famed novel, which became a classic horror film in 1973, is set to possess the audience with its gripping and disturbing performance, directed by Yasmin Elahi.

 

This stage adaptation of "The Exorcist" employs a combination of innovative staging techniques, special effects, and intense performances to bring this classic horror story to life. The production plunges the audience into an intense battle of good versus evil as young Regan MacNeil, after experimenting with a Ouija Board, starts displaying unsettling and violent behaviours. Her desperate mother, Chris, seeks medical help, but conventional treatments fail to explain or ease Regan's terrifying symptoms. As events escalate, Chris turns to the church for help and meets Father Damien Karras, a priest grappling with his own crisis of faith. With the help of experienced exorcist, Father Merrin, they join forces to combat the evil force inhabiting Regan. As the battle for Regan's soul reaches its climactic conclusion, the audience is left to ponder the profound questions raised by this timeless tale of terror.


From the moment you step into the theatre, the immersive atmosphere takes hold. The ambient sounds of rain, creaking, and distant thunder create a foreboding sense of unease. The decision to forgo the traditional curtain and reveal the set immediately draws the audience into the world where young Regan's harrowing ordeal unfolds. Regan's bedroom is the central focus of the stage, with a living area and attic situated on the opposite side. The clever use of lighting effectively distinguishes between these areas, often employing a split-screen technique that highlights concurrent scenes.


Kaitlyn Harding's portrayal of Regan is nothing short of phenomenal. Double-cast with Charlotte Rubendra, both actresses were chosen for their exceptional talent, and it's easy to see why. From the onset, Kaitlyn convincingly embodies Regan's youthful innocence and playful nature, as well as her deep longing for her father amidst her parents' upcoming divorce, despite the actress' actual age. She captures Regan's evolution from a spirited young girl to a vessel of terror with haunting precision; her chilling screams echoing through the theatre and eerie facial expressions in her demonic portrayal are genuinely unsettling. This raw, visceral interpretation of Regan's torment is both captivating and draining to witness.


Ali Morgan delivers a deeply affecting performance as Chris, Regan's mother. She skilfully conveys a range of emotions, from genuine concern to palpable fear and frustration, while helplessly watches her daughter's troubling actions unfold. Despite being new to the theatre scene, Ali's natural acting abilities shine, enabling viewers to connect with her character's turmoil regarding both Jamie and Regan. Additionally, she happens to be the creative force behind the intricate gory makeup too.


Jabade Brown-Oakes initially comes across as somewhat rigid in his portrayal of Father Karras, as though he is overthinking his delivery. Nevertheless, as the play unfolds he hits his stride, particularly in the pivotal scenes involving the demon. Scott Black's portrayal of Father Merrin, making an iconic entrance in Act 2, brings a commanding presence to the stage, embodying the experienced exorcist with a mix of gravitas and determination, tinged with his underlying sense of dread. Reagan Warner's voice as the demon is perfect—raspy, menacing, and merciless. The use of the theatre's surround sound system to project the demon's voice adds a haunting, immersive quality, creating the sensation that the demon is creeping into your ears from all angles.


The supporting cast deliver solid performances, contributing to the narrative's momentum. Kristy Smith-Wood portrays the strength and worry of Dr. Strong. Their interactions with Regan and the other characters are grounded in a realism that makes the unfolding horror all the more believable. James Reid as Dr. Klein brings a clinical detachment to the play, representing the medical community's bafflement at Regan's condition. His portrayal is marked by a steady composure that slowly unravels, mirroring the character's (and the audience's) increasing apprehension. Father Joe's character, often seen in moments of reflection and support, offers a contrast to the more intense figures of Fathers Karras and Merrin. Jonny Sweeper's portrayal captures the quiet strength and unwavering faith of a priest dedicated to his calling, even in the face of overwhelming evil. Adrian Mackay brings a lively energy to the role of Uncle Burke, the English drunk whose character provides a contrasting element of levity amidst the tension.

 

Director Yasmin Elahi's vision for an immersive horror experience is realised in every aspect of the production. The use of burning incense during church scenes, red lighting to signify the demon's presence, and the decision to have no house lights, thus enveloping the audience in darkness, maintain the suspenseful atmosphere throughout the performance. The audience's eerie silence (and hushed tones during intermission) are a testament to the show's gripping nature. The cabaret-style seating at this theatre is a favourite feature of mine because it creates an intimate atmosphere that makes the horror feel personal, akin to being trapped in a haunted house.

 


The technical aspects of the production are equally impressive. Special effects by Rowany Blackshaw are outstanding, including the blood, skin, urine, prosthetics, and even the infamous projectile vomit scene. Jonathan Johns is the mastermind behind the physical special effects. Witness with amazement as ordinary objects come to life, to create that eerie sense of supernatural presence. The levitating scene, a nod to the iconic film moment, is a showstopper, leaving the audience in awe of the theatrical magic. By projecting the Ouija board responses onto the wall and briefly illuminating the horrifying face of the demon with strobe lighting, a dynamic connection is established between Regan (and the audience) and the supernatural entity, which remains visible only to us and Regan.


The production of "The Exorcist" does not shy away from its most confronting aspects, delivering a shocking viewing experience. Regan's transformation is profoundly unsettling, characterised by the guttural voice, violent convulsions, and sacrilegious disdain for religion, echoing the infamous crucifix scene from the original film. Through the use of explicit language and extreme behaviours, the play pushes the boundaries of horror. Clearly not suitable for the faint-hearted, these components are essential to establish the deeply unsettling wickedness of demonic possession.


Brisbane is incredibly fortunate to host this landmark production of "The Exorcist," a theatrical event that transcends the typical play and redefines the limits of live theatre. Securing the rights and earning the trust of the playwrights was a monumental achievement for Ghostlight Theatre. With stellar performances, masterful technical elements, and visionary direction, this is a must-see event for those willing to confront its intensity. Regardless of whether you're a fan of the film or unfamiliar with the story, it's irrelevant because this performance will captivate you and leave a lasting impression. Don’t miss your chance to witness this historic Australian debut firsthand. Secure your tickets now for an unforgettable journey into the heart of darkness. Now running until July 14th, 2024.


Photographs by Alan Burchill




 

 

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