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The Exorcism review at Battersea Arts Centre, London – ‘funny, eerie, and formally playful’

Ross Sutherland in The Exorcism at Battersea Arts Centre, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Poet and performer Ross Sutherland relishes an experiment. He’s written palindrome plays and interactive comedy gigs, as well as the sublime fusion of poetry and video that was Standby for Tape Back-up.

His new show The Exorcism initially feels more conventional, if you can say that about a comedy monologue in which Sutherland plays a priest tasked with banishing a demon. But it soon reveals itself to be a typically layered piece, in which Sutherland equates the artistic impulse with possession – the writing process, after all, is an exercise in channelling the voices ones head – it can feel uncanny. The muse as Pazuzu.

Then he starts to play rug-pulling games with reality as the demon-artist creates increasingly clichéd narratives for the exorcist-critic to disentangle himself from. As the demon’s strength weakens, these shift from high concept storylines to what the show appears to define as popular culture at its most trite: reality television and catchy but banal pop songs.

Rob Watt’s production achieves the not of inconsiderable feat of moving fluidly between moments of silliness and moments of genuine intensity. Sutherland’s increasingly fevered and frantic performance (he is an excellent actor of his own material) adds to the sense of disorientation as does his glitchy sound design coupled with Tom Clutterbuck’s flickering lighting.

The set up takes too long to establish and the whole thing is way too convoluted – part performative essay, part ghost story, part act of artistic introspection, part something else entirely – but I’d rather watch Sutherland experimenting than other theatremakers playing it safe any day.

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Funny, eerie, formally playful, if convoluted, solo show by poet and performer Ross Sutherland