WHEN it was shown for the first time in Melbourne, Australia, an
actor was employed to run around the cinema shouting like a man
possessed. In truth, The Exorcist scares pretty much
everybody who sees it, with or without such stunts.
Regularly identified in polls as the scariest film ever made,
the 1973 classic manages to upset believers and unbelievers alike.
But, as the film critic Fr Peter Malone said, when he was
interviewed on Sunday (Radio 4, last Sunday), it is the
lapsed Christians who are most freaked out by William Friedkin's
Having now finally encountered The Exorcist through
Robert Forrest's adaption for Radio 4 (Thursday and Friday of last
week), I understand Malone's point. After all, Damien Karras, the
priest/psychologist initially given the task of evicting the demon
from the tormented Regan, is a man of doubt, whose half-hearted
adherence to the tenets of the faith is mercilessly exposed by the
Yet one has to wonder whether Beelzebub's strategy is really
effective; for if there is one thing that would drive a lapsed
Catholic back into the pen of faith, it would be an encounter with
The question is, can a radio adaptation ever be scary enough?
Here, Forrest and his cast are to be commended for keeping up a
fierce pace, and exploiting the radiophonics toolkit. I
particularly enjoyed the transformation of Regan's voice from
precocious girl (Lydia Wilson) to Whore of Babylon (Alexandra
But whether or not any of this was scary would have to depend on
when and where you were listening. This was not a production
designed to be heard against the background of one's daughter
practising her Grade 3 piano scales. But put me in a darkened room
with only a crucifix and the wind and rain for company, and I could
allow myself a shiver or two.
This followed hard upon another drama with religious content.
Is Your Love Better than Life? (Radio 3, Sunday before
last) presented itself as a modern take on T. S. Eliot's Murder
in the Cathedral. Fortunately, Frances Byrnes's drama was less
turgidly worthy than her inspiration; and even if the promisingly
enigmatic start settled down a little too soon into a familiar
story of Church and politics in conflict, the play rolled along
The Archbishop of Canterbury is coming to the end of his term in
office, but his desire for smooth departure is upset when the
politics of immigration and repatriation come knocking and asking
for sanctuary. Diminishing resources have made such questions much
more pressing, and it does not help the Archbishop that he is good
mates with the Minister for Overseas Development.
Along the way there is a second plot-strand, involving the
Archbishop's Evangelical adviser and the social-media campaign that
he is waging in expectation of anew incumbent. The technique by
which Byrnes evokes for radio the twittering of the Twitterati
provided a pleasing counterpoint to the earnest expositions of
statehood and ethics. I could see Eliot's play being enlivened by
the occasional smiley face, and other assorted emoticons.