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I've had sleepless nights over the spinning head in The Exorcist

Ben Hart, the man behind the illusions in the new stage adaptation of the classic horror, explains what it's been like working on the show


Our production of The Exorcist is very much based in realism and is quite psychological. My approach has therefore not been for Las Vegas style grand. I'm not aiming to make the audience go: "Oh my god how did they do that?" That would pull them out of the delicate story.

There are three main sections that everyone remembers in The Exorcist, which of course we have to do. There's the projectile vomiting moment, the levitation and the 360 degree head spin. I've gone for something which has the same tone as those bits in the film but more rooted in reality. The biggest criticism of the 1973 film was that, in retrospect, some things look a bit over the top, so I have been trying to rein everything back. The challenge is also that these things have to look painful. The story is about this poor young woman who is in so much trouble.

Magic is all about leading your audience to an inevitable surprise and it's the same in horror. If a killer jumps out of nowhere and stabs somebody, it's not scary. But it is if you know that there's a killer on the loose. It's the same in a magic trick: you pull the rug out from people's feet at the last minute.

Sean Mathias is such a fantastic director, and this production is quite filmic and we go through many locations in a very short space of time. For me, it's all about controlling our audience's attention and moving their focus around the stage. The script is a joy because the play has been written in a way that makes my life easier. The scenes cut between each other like in a movie which is great because you don't want an audience to smell that there's something coming. You want to get into the scene, do it and then get out before they get analytical about how a trick is done.

My collaboration has mainly been with the director and designer Anna Fleischle who is amazing. A job like this deals with just about every different emotion and every different type of texture. Things happen to the character of Regan's body, things happen with liquids with physical props. You have to shower the job off you after work both physically and emotionally.

But there's a lot of warmth in the production. It's not just a horrible. It brings up questions about religion, about the way human beings interact, I think it transcends a horror play.

The biggest challenge was making a head spin 360 degrees. It looks amazing, but that's what I have had sleepless nights over. I strongly believe that every problem contains and suggests its own solution. It's about moving your brain away from thinking that something is impossible and moving it back into a place that is achievable.

By Ben Hart

The Exorcist runs at Birmingham Rep until 5 November.