Bestselling author Peter James, whose page-turning, murderous works provide the staple reading diet of airport travellers and WH Smith perusers, has extended his chilling reach once more, by adapting his ghostly tale The House on Cold Hill into a stage production. He might be on to a good thing here, as other supernatural productions such as Ghost Stories and The Woman in Black have proven to be perennially popular with audiences who enjoy nothing more than jumping out of their seats. In his four previous stage productions, James has drawn his cast from a pool of familiar faces from TV and soaps; this time he is using the talents of Holby City’s/ Strictly Comes Dancing winner 2007 Joe McFadden and Eastenders actors Rita Simons, Charlie Clements and Hollyoak’s Persephone Swales-Dawson.
Whether we believe in ghosts or not, the concept remains a curiosity to most of us, at least in a literary form. In an age when most things are explained by science, we are intrigued by anything that challenges our perceptions of reality and remains inexplicable. The New Vic was packed on opening night, and everyone in their seats, in keen anticipation, well before curtains were raised. The ‘turn off your phones’ announcement by Peter James himself prior to the start was provocatively pertinent, giving us a hint at the direction in which the story was going.
Successful couple Ollie (McFadden) and Caro (Simons), and young daughter Jade (Swales-Dawson) have just bought an historic house, based on the remains of an ancient monastery, which they are keep to do up and turn into their ‘forever’ home, unknowing that the previous owner met an untimely end on the house porch, after just receiving the keys. Ollie and Caro apparently manage to move in without incident, but soon find that they are not the only inhabitants in the house. Caro and Jade experience several spooky incidents, but Ollie remains unconvinced until Chris, the local IT geek, (Clements) and Phil, the builder (Leon Stewart) tell him enough to arouse his suspicions that something is amiss in the house, and something needs to be done.
Local folklore and rumour, or a hidden agenda by the IT geek? The tale is a classic ghost story, but with a very modern twist. Although sound effects are somewhat muffled, mobile phones and Alexa are key and original devices in the plot. The script is fresh and up-to-date, and a comment by Phil the builder that Ollie “should go on Strictly”, after watching him do a little dance was much appreciated by the audience. There are enough light-hearted moments to break the tension that builds through the two acts, but a glass of wine and breather was much appreciated at the interval. The second act moves quickly towards the finale, giving the audience a few jumps along the way.
It was quite a pleasure to see a production of this genre at the New Victoria, and hopefully we will see more in the near future.
[Amanda Briggs, April 2019]
The House on Cold Hill is playing at the New Victoria theatre, Woking from Tuesday 23-Saturday 27 April