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The House on Cold Hill

by on 10 April 2019

Jump, Squeal and Try Not to Panic

The House on Cold Hill

by Peter James, adapted by Shaun McKenna

Joshua Andrews Productions at Richmond Theatre until 13th April

Review by Eleanor Lewis

“From ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties, and things that go bump in the night, Good Lord deliver us!” pleads the Scottish prayer, and yet there are few things more thrilling than snuggling up in a dim theatre, looking forward to being scared out of our wits by a decent ghost story.

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The House on Cold Hill is definitely a decent ghost story. At first sight it could be a predictable story too as Michael Holt’s set presents the kind of ancient, creaking house with the potential for both loving restoration and all the horrors imagination can conjure. Typical ghost story-type in fact. Into this ‘project house’ move Joe McFaddon as Ollie, Rita Simons as Caro, and Persephone Swales-Dawson as their phone-addicted, teenage daughter Jade. Ollie is starting his own web-design business, Caro is a solicitor and Jade, though appalled at being removed from big-city civilisation, takes it on the chin with wit and a philosophical attitude. This is a happy little family. Various other characters appear from time to time to help the trio settle into their new house of horrors.

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As might be expected, a series of events (no spoilers) then begin to unnerve the three of them and a slow, gentle build of tension in the first act, beautifully complemented by Jason Taylor’s subtle lighting, ramps up considerably in the second, causing the audience to jump and squeal in a very satisfying way. The elderly house, though unnerving in itself, is far from the only unsettling feature of the unfolding story.

HouseCold10McFaddon, Simons and Swales-Dawson play an attractive family without being sentimental. Similarly Tricia Deighton manages to make Annie, the part-time village Medium, endearing without tipping into caricature, and Charlie Clements produces a closely observed, quite physical portrayal of ‘tech whizz’ Chris, who contorts his body when moving in the self-effacing way specialists who know the rest of the world doesn’t understand them, so often do.

HouseCold9Leon Stewart plays the builder we have all met, complete with long intakes of breath when giving a quote; and an attractive, non-stereotypical vicar, not entirely keen on dealing with exorcisms, is neatly portrayed by Padraig Lynch. (Attractive clergy seem to be the next big thing these days, yes, I speak of Fleabag).

So much of the success of these productions is down to the skill of crew and technical teams and all credit to Tuesday night’s crew and tech teams when those skills were in full and highly effective working order.

Issues were tiny: the musical inserts at times were a little clunky, the volume seemed high for the required effect; and the idea that a web-designer in 2019 would write something as quaint as a cheque to pay the builder seemed incongruous, but that is probably of no importance at all.

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The more predictable elements of the story were handled with style and humour – even an in-joke suggesting Ollie should go on Strictly was greeted with affection rather than groans (McFadden won the competition in 2017) – and the use of the wayward Alexa is inspired. This is a production that doesn’t take itself too seriously but still manages to scare the living daylights out of you from time to time. Shaun McKenna’s polished adaptation of Peter James’ novel has produced a great piece of theatre which totally engages everyone to the point of a near mass intervention by the slightly panicked – in a good way – Tuesday audience, towards the end! Huge fun.

A shockingly good night’s entertainment! Recommended.

Eleanor Lewis
April 2019

Photography by Helen Maybanks

From → Drama, Reviews

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