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From scream to stage - The Exorcist comes to Theatre Royal Windsor

Siobhan Newman

From scream to stage - The Exorcist comes to Theatre Royal Windsor

Inspired by true events, the extraordinary story of The Exorcist comes to the stage.

The plot, made famous in the 1973 film, follows the story of a girl named Regan and her strange symptoms.

When the medical profession can’t help, her mother turns to a priest. But Father Damien must overcome his own shaken beliefs for the fight.

A stellar cast including Paul Nicholas, Ben Caplan and Sophie Ward brings this production, by Bill Kenwright, to terrifying life.

The authorised adaptation is by the award-winning writer John Pielmeier who talks about faith, demons, Ian McKellen and bringing The Exorcist to the stage.

Before your stage adaptation, The Exorcist was a successful novel and iconic film. When did you first encounter it?

I first read it when William Peter Blatty’s book came out in the early 70s. It was very interesting and scary and moving, but it didn’t affect me as much the first time I read it.

What grabbed you about it that second time, then?

I took it on because I found so much of it related to my own inner life in many ways. It spoke to me as a person and it was also something I felt I could comment on. Yes, it’s a story about a 12-year-old girl who is supposedly possessed by the devil. But it’s really about struggles of faith; the struggles that her mother has with her own lack of faith, and those of the priest who is trying to help her.

I think all of us have gone through situations where we have changed our beliefs in some way, times when we’ve lost faith or gained faith in something.

What was it like seeing those iconic moments created on stage for the first time?

It was incredibly exciting. Ben Hart, who is the illusions designer on the show, is absolutely brilliant. I’d say “Ben, this is what I was thinking” and he’d have an even better idea because he knows so much more about it than I do.

What does seeing The Exorcist on stage bring to the story?

The story is incredibly theatrical. It’s essentially a story that takes place inside a house, mostly inside one room, with a small number of characters.

It’s very contained physically, but it is absolutely boundless in an emotional and intellectual way. And being in the same room when it is all happening is a very different, wonderful experience to seeing a movie. Being in front of living people re-enacting something right before your eyes in a very present tense way is incredible.

What do you choose to believe in with regards to the supernatural?

Oh, that’s a huge area. I probably don’t believe in the devil in the way that he is characterised in the play.

But I think symbolically, it’s a very powerful thing. I’ve always been fascinated by asking questions, not about finding the answers.

A lot of these things we can’t know the answers to, that’s why faith is about taking something without proof.

How do you feel to have Sir Ian McKellen providing the voice of your demon?

Being in the studio, watching Ian McKellen doing all this amazing stuff. That was terrific.

The Exorcist will be at Theatre Royal Windsor until Saturday, September 14.

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