Award-winning writer John Pielmeier talks about faith, demons, Sir 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, scary and moving, but it didn’t affect me as much the first time I read it as it did when I re-read it for this project.of
What grabbed you about it that second time?
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. I was surprised no one had done this before. 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?
What was so exciting about that, for me personally, was to be in the studio when he made those recordings. I was watching Ian McKellen doing all this amazing stuff. That was terrific.
How important is it that the show is touring the UK?
I think it’s so important to take pieces on tour around a country to make these stories accessible to people, not only financially, but also in terms of proximity, because I think so many stories, and especially The Exorcist, have something important to say.
In your career you’ve written plays, films, television series and novels, and received a host of nominations and awards. Is there anything left to achieve?
I try not to think of things in terms of achievement. What I want to achieve is to keep working and creating and having my creations take form in a way beyond my computer.
Finally, what can audiences expect from The Exorcist?
I hope they will be excited by it and a little scared by it at times. They might get a few of those chilling moments. But I hope they will come away with a feeling that it’s not just a horror story – there’s so much more to it than that.
The Exorcist is showing at His Majesty’s Theatre in Aberdeen from November 19 to 23. For performance times and tickets, see www.aberdeenperformingarts.com