ONE of the most memorable elements of the 1973 movie version of this infamous and iconic horror story is the guttural, bestial, snarling voice of the demon, brilliantly portrayed by actress Mercedes McCambridge.

In this stage version Bolton’s own Sir Ian McKellen lends his unmistakable pre-recorded mellifluous tones to help bring to life the unseen evil that possesses a 12 year old girl.

His performance is uncredited and there were many members of the audience Googling during the interval to check it really was him spitting out the kind of foul mouthed lines that would make Gandalf dash back to The Shire for a nice cup of tea.

As you’d expect, his is a master class in voice acting. His demon, Pazuzu, is both seductive and terrifying, as it turns Regan into a swearing, vomiting, head-spinning horror, thanks to some nifty special effects.

Paul Nicholas plays elderly and experienced exorcist Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow’s role in the movie).

His character doesn’t have much time on stage, but when he appears, Nicholas convinces as the powerful priest.

Sophie Ward is Regan’s movie actress mum Chris MacNeil and manages to convey well the terror, bewilderment and frustration as her possessed daughter’s condition worsens.

What this stage version, directed effectively by Sean Mathias, shares well with the film is that they both positively drip with an atmosphere of dread.

The sound, set and lighting design are all superb, allowing the action to seamlessly flit back and forth between Regan’s bedroom and other locations. Shadows and dry ice are also used to great effect to heighten the tension.

The strength of the movie is its ability to take a close-up look at the characters as they battle their own demons - loss of faith is an overriding theme of The Exorcist.

The camera can microscopically examine the transformation, both physical and mental, of young Regan in a way that just isn’t possible in the theatre.

However, it’s fascinating to see such a familiar story live on stage.

And this production offers some great interplay between Regan and the demon that fleshes out how the girl becomes seduced and possessed which adds to the movie version.

It may be 46 years since The Exorcist shook cinema goers with its depiction of an innocent girl transformed into a snarling monster.

Linda Blair played that role in the movie and in this version Susannah Edgley does a great job in a physically demanding role as Regan. One minute she’s sweetness and light, the next, she’s obscenity and bite (literally).

The Exorcist still has the power to shock today.

Some members of the audience were whimpering nervously within seconds of curtain up.

If you’re a fan of the movie or just enjoy a good, scary night out, this production is just the ticket as Halloween approaches.

Runs until Saturday (advisory, suitable for ages 15 and over)

Ian Savage