Starting with the best-dressed and most elegantly-lit set I’ve seen in a good while this was an evening of pure pleasure from our own dear Players who’ve kept drama alive in the city through thick and thin for as long as I can remember. They’re also very good at finding new things you haven’t seen no matter how often you’ve been to the theatre, and Don Taylor’s scary drama The Exorcism is a perfect case in point.
Picture the scene – the perfect country cottage, Christmas, and four old friends meeting for the holiday. But almost immediately things start to go wrong. Brian Asbury gives the performance of a lifetime as Dan, the slightly buffoonish posh friend who comes to stay, but it’s David Stonehouse whose performance was the biggest revelation. Deepening his accomplishment with every role he approaches, on this showing he is in grave danger of becoming a first-rate leading man. Here his portrayal as the genuinely baffled and deeply disturbed Christmas host Edmund marked a real step forward in his performing career.
But ultimately it’s the ladies who really make this production, Sarah Stanley as the haunted chatelaine of the ancient structure looking more beautiful and elegant than ever and giving a faultless performance as a homemaker jolted out of the normality of a friendly dinner party into the scary and unpredictable world of the supernatural. Adrienne Swallow as her more worldly-wise friend sketches in the character of Margaret with a deceptive ease that lets her create a portrayal that’s a series of beautifully judged changes of pace and mood.
I can’t say any more without giving away some of the many clever contrivances of this satisfying production, suffice it to say the cast and technical staff had the audience on the edge of their seats nervously hanging on every word and laughing too as Don Taylor’s script cleverly breaks and sustains the dramatic tension.
The Exorcism is a taut drama walking a tightrope between tension and relief and featuring some of the best ensemble playing from its four-strong cast that I’ve seen in a while. Greats sound effects too!