The Exorcism (Dead of Night), Barn Theatre, Southwick, review: Ghostly thriller is truly terrifying

Wick Theatre Company's cast for The Exorcism, Anna Quick as Rachel, John Garland as Dan, Emily Dennett as Margaret and Sam Razavi as Edmund
Wick Theatre Company's cast for The Exorcism, Anna Quick as Rachel, John Garland as Dan, Emily Dennett as Margaret and Sam Razavi as Edmund

Wick Theatre Company starts the new year with a spine-tingling, ghostly thriller at the Barn Theatre in Southwick.

Feeling it is too late for a pantomime, director Susanne Crosby has instead brought us a dark mystery for this January run.

It is unnerving, scary and thought-provoking, full of chills and terror.

Unusually, it is set in real time – even the interval is accounted for, with 20 minutes of action you do not see but later find out about.

The setting is a country cottage on Christmas Day in 1972 and the construction team has done a brilliant job, creating a cosy scene that becomes equally dark and claustrophobic.

Don and Margaret, played by John Garland and Emily Dennett, are visiting their friends Edmund and Rachel, played by Anna Quick and Sam Razavi, in their newly-renovated cottage for the first time.

It all seems to get off to a good start, with Christmas presents exchanged and the turkey on the table.

Senses are heightened throughout, so you can really smell that delicious Christmas dinner, and from the start you are looking for clues to the haunting.

Margaret says ‘when you imagine something it becomes real’ and then it begins, with a medieval tune on the clavichord that seems to come from Rachel’s head, the wine turning to blood, the painful after-effects of eating and the lights going out.

It is when cottage closes itself off to the world, with its inhabitants trapped inside, that the true horror is felt. Although we in the audience cannot see the darkness out of the windows, we can really feel the sense of being shut in, and that is largely down to the skills of the actors, keeping up the tension and the belief in this ghostly presence.

The connection to the past starts and ends with Rachel and after a period of quietness, Anna delivers the powerful denouement, pulling us all in as everything begins to be explained.

She and Sam work well together, as do Emily and John. Each actor delivers an excellent performance and the whole play is so convincing, you never lose your belief in the darkness, the haunting.

What you do not fully realise until much later on, though, caught up as you are in your fear and anticipation of what might happen, is that this is not just a ghost story, it is a political piece about injustice, one that still continues to this day – and that is perhaps what is truly frightening about it.

The Exorcism, from TV’s Dead of Night, will be at The Barn Theatre, Southwick, until Saturday, January 11, at 7.45pm daily, with tickets priced at £12. Telephone The Barn box office on 01273 597094 or visit www.wicktheatre.co.uk