The House on Cold Hill,
Connaught Theatre, Worthing,
3-8 June 2019
Good to see another Peter James story arriving in the Connaught Theatre and being a local author the show has been well supported with even an extra matinee added. In fact, Peter James was in the audience yesterday evening as he likes to in the auditorium to see the audience reaction to his plays. Not your average Peter James “Dead” theme with Brighton investigator Roy Grace, this show was based around his thriller of the same title inspired by his own personal experiences of moving into an isolated manor house in Sussex which was seriously haunted.
So the show opens with the death of a new owner of the house on his moving-in day who is killed by a crumbling masonary arch in unexplained circumstances. Fast forward 40 years of standing empty due to local superstition and now we meet the new owners, the town-dwelling Brighton based Harcourt family, moving in to their dream home in the Sussex countryside..
Then strange things start to happen and some of the locals they encounter seem to know more about what’s happening than the Harcourts have been told – could it be they are not the only residents of their dream house? Will they leave or stay there and try to get to the bottom of the strange happenings ?.
The ghost story genre is given a modern twist in this adaption. The Harcourts are a modern family: Ollie (played by Joe McFadden) is a former PR advertising executive who is changing his career to homebased web design, Caro his pragmatic solicitor wife( Rita Simons) is a very independent lady, Jade the sixteen year old teenage daughter (understudy Zoe Hickson) is constantly Facetiming her best friend. The manor house is being brought into the 21st century using structural adaptions, laptops, Wifi and Alexa technology whose involvement adds to the mysterious goings on.
There’s a strong well-known cast which always helps ticket sales but I felt there were elements of over-acting which made it less believable. Joe McFadden plays an enthusiastic Ollie who moves through emotions of complete disbelief of a ghostly presence through reluctant acceptance that there may be something going on, to full-on panic at the thought his family may be in danger. Rita Simons is his wife Caro, not too plausible as a professional solicitor, who is more practical when things go wrong and more willing to believe what she’s experienced even though she cannot offer an explanation. There’s a reasonably good on-stage chemistry between the two and they work well together, each wanting to protect the other from worry which is probably what most couples would do in the eerie circumstances. Add to the mix their sixteen- year old daughter Jade who would rather be in Brighton than in this scary ghostly manor.
There are strong performances from the village locals. Charlie Clements is the village technology geek brought in to help Ollie with his on-line business and is a crucial character to the new ghost identifying technology used. Leon Stewart is builder Phil, surprised at some of the things he’s finding as he tries to rectify problems with the house. Padraig Lynch is the local vicar who turns up to sell raffle tickets but ends up getting more involved than he was expecting, while Tricia Deighton gives a brilliantly believable performance as Annie, the local craft shop owner with a skill of communicating with the spirit word.
The House on Cold Hill is a spooky thriller with some shocks along the way containing some abrupt and sometimes scary moments. Well written and competently performed, it has some good twists and turns and a great ending and whether or not you believe in the supernatural, it provides food for thought about how modern technology has changed our lives too.
Reviewer: Sandra Jenkins