Set to turn many heads: Ian McKellen to voice the demon in ‘The Exorcist’

From the intimate and sophisticated stage of Shakespeare’s King Lear at Chichester Festival, Ian McKellen truly proves that age is inconsequential when paired with sheer artistic talent. This month, McKellen will play the voice of the demon in a West End production of The Exorcist. Based on William Peter Blatty’s novel, the play originally ran at Birmingham Repertory Theatre but will now show at the Phoenix Theatre later this month. Alongside McKellen, Adam Garcia will star as Father Damien Karras, Jenny Seagrove as Chris MacNeil, Peter Bowles as Father Lankester Merrin and Elliot Harper as Father Joe. Tod Boyce will be performing the role of Doctor Strong, Isla Lindsey as Sharon, Mitchell Mullen as Doctor Klein, Tristram Wymark as Burke and Clare Louise Connolly as Regan. For those who are unaware of the plot of The Exorcist, it’s a true story based upon a demon possessing a small girl who is then exorcised by a local priest.

Famous for his various roles in The Lord of the Rings, X Men, and for previous performances of Richard II and King Lear, many believe that McKellen ought to be pruning his rose bushes during the day instead of capturing an audience with his wit and magnificence at the ripe old age of 78. While insouciant about his sexuality, he is swift to reject any notion of ‘old age’ and it clearly shows through his latest performances and his adaptability to any role. Perhaps the shocking anthesis to the erudite and cultured stereotype of Shakespeare, The Exorcist definitely isn’t known for its refined complexity arduous language. Surely then, McKellen’s ability to adapt to various roles will not fail to once more impress a wide and expectant audience. The Exorcist is known, however, for sparking an unprecedented controversy in 1973 when it was released. The juxtaposition of McKellen’s soothing baritone and the sinister nature of a malicious demon possessing a young girl will result in an interesting combination.

The entire notion of performing The Exorcist on the stage likely presents its own issues – just how are they going to make her head spin around? Many of the special effects which led the film to become one of the highest grossing films of all time are going to be particularly problematic to reproduce without a capacious setting, at the very least. Adapted to the stage by John Pielmeier and directed by Sean Mathias (Waiting for Godot, No Man’s Land), modifications will have been made for both the requirements and the limitations of the stage. Anna Fleischle will be designing the production, lighting design by Philip Gladwell, while the composition and sound production of the play will be choreographed by Adam Cork.

With Mathias now in control of the production there are high expectations for the play: ‘But with seasoned director Sean Mathias now at the helm, British theatre goers will no doubt be spared such artistic mollycoddling. A credible track record on both stage and screen, Mathias is arguably as a safe pair of hands as any – albeit not steeped in quite so much blood (…gore, searing flesh, projectile vomiting). Alongside a solid cast, The Exorcist‘s reborn on stage presence is a genuinely/potentially quite exciting affair.’

A certainly limited production, West End’s The Exorcist will be running at the Phoenix Theatre from the 28th October to the 10th March.

Stephanie Bennet

(Image courtesy of Robert Days)