Arts Reviews

The House On Cold Hill @ Theatre Royal

Peter James’ The House On Cold Hill, starring Joe McFadden and Rita Simons, opened its run at the Theatre Royal on Monday 28th to an audience of mixed reception. To some, a compelling blend of drama, thriller, horror, and comedy, and to others, a drama lacking in the scare-factor that it intends to possess.

The House On Cold Hill has a small but well-known cast of 8, with the focus remaining on the Harcourt family throughout, consisting of parents Ollie and Caro, and daughter Jade. Rita Simons, mostly known for playing Roxy Mitchell in Eastenders and her recent appearance in ITV’s I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, takes the role of the loving mother. Ollie is played by Joe McFadden, who has appeared in a number of theatre and television shows, predominantly BBC’s Holby City and Casualty, as well as ITV’s Heartbeat.

Ollie is a fun-loving husband and father, who tries to resist the belief that the house in which they are living is haunted, until the events that unfold leave him to have no choice but to accept it. Daughter to Ollie and Caro is Jade, played by Persephone Swales-Dawson, similarly a soap-star, having had a regular role in Channel 4’s Hollyoaks. Jade is the epitome of a stereotypical teenager, obsessed with technology, adolescently sarcastic and always wanting to be out of the house with her friends.

Alongside the focal family are Chris, a colleague to Ollie, played by Charlie Clements, best known for his multi-award winning portrayal as Bradley Branning in Eastenders, Annie, a hippie supernatural medium played by west-end and television star Tricia Deighton, Fortinbras, the priest who offers advice to the family, Phil, a builder working on the house, and O’Hare, a previous inhabitant in the house.

“It was a shame that the set remained unchanged throughout”

Perhaps the main element of thrill lies in the fact that this play is based upon a true story. The play is based upon no.1 best-selling author Peter James’ novel of the same title, inspired by the experiences of James’ own past, during which he moved into an isolated Georgian manor house in Sussex and started to experience things of a supernatural nature.

The set perfectly portrayed this Georgian manner, with large cross-paned windows, tall grey walls and a large central room. The set consisted of a front door, a set of stairs leading to the upper half of the house, a door to an unseen kitchen area and basement, with the main area consisting of a sofa, desk, mirror, and a few boxes as the Harcourt family had recently moved in. Whilst the set allowed for the characters to go into different ‘rooms’ such as a kitchen, giving a more realistic depiction of a house as a result, it was a shame that the set remained unchanged throughout and we didn’t see these other areas.

“Despite the set being in an old house, it was in modern day setting”

Another element that added to the ‘scary’ side of the play was the uncanniness, as despite the set being in an old house, it was in modern day setting, with elements of modernity being shown in the play through technological aspects such as an ‘Alexa’ and Facetime. The Alexa was one of the main features in the play used to scare the audience as a device through which the spirit communicates, as well as being used for comedic effect. This makes the play perhaps more relatable to the audience as well as giving it an element of individuality, as most plays of this genre are set in the past, without a sense of modernity.

“There was a serious lack of momentum and suspense”

Whilst the ‘scary’ elements increased in frequency as the play went on, there was a serious lack of momentum and suspense, which took away from the potential scariness of the play. I had hoped that after the interval the pace would pick up until the play reached its climax, but to a certain extent it remained monotonous. As well as this, the lack of realism meant the play wasn’t able to have that element of horror that arises by the feeling that something could be real. The unrealistic nature led to people laughing at times that they were supposed to be being scared, which at times created a feeling of awkwardness.

“The acting was mediocre overall”

The fear-factor was also in some sense lessened by the style of acting. The acting was mediocre overall, with it feeling quite pantomimic and over-exaggerated, which made me take the play less seriously, and slightly confused the genre of the play as a result. However, the most impressive acting came from one of the less focal characters Chris, played by Charlie Clements. Clements gave a realistic and believable performance, with convincing characterisation and the perfect level of dramatisation.

“I can’t help but feel it nowhere near reached its potential”

In terms of plot, unfortunately it felt as if there were several plot-holes, and parts of the story that were undeveloped, which as a result made the play slightly incoherent. I really liked the story of the play and what it was based upon, but I can’t help but feel it nowhere near reached its potential. Part of this is because the play positioned itself as a spine-chilling supernatural thriller, giving the false impression that it would be scary.

The stage adaptation, in my opinion, didn’t do the book justice. To find out more about the show you can visit the website, and you can check out some behind scenes footage here.


Alana McKenna

Featured image courtesy of Theatre Royal via Facebook.

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