Review: The House On Cold Hill. Nottingham Theatre Royal. (touring)

“Alexa, please write this review but include no spoilers…”

Well, as this reviewer has no Alexa smart speaker to suggest things to him he is going to have to write the old fashioned way. Quill and ink? No silly, on a laptop in a spooky old house where every creak and squeal is nervously laughed at and explained away as just ‘the old pipes playing up’. After all this reviewers’ house is just an old house built on the  site of an ancient graveyard and there are no spooky goings on here, thank goodness. If only the swirling fog outside would clear.

If you want to visit a really spooky old house and get creeped out at the ghoulish goings on then you couldn’t do any better than trot down to Nottingham Theatre Royal where Shaun McKenna’s fine stage adaptation of Peter Jame’s The House On Cold Hill is playing until Saturday 2nd February 2019. This beautifully and naturally acted piece of theatre is directed by Ian Talbot with a glorious set design by Michael Holt. Jason Taylor’s lighting design and Martin Hodgson’s sound design complete with Nina Dunn’s video and projection designs all add immeasurably to the evening’s very enjoyable drama. Nick Lloyd Webber’ s chilling music helps to keep the escalating moods atmospheric.

With Joe McFadden as web designer dad figure Ollie, Rita Simons as solicitor mum Caro and Persephone Swales- Dawson as teenage daughter Jade we have a very believable family unit wealthy enough to ‘just about afford’ to move into a big old house which has historical connections to an old abbey and a history of being cursed. Have they taken on too much? Their friend Chris (Charlie Clements) helps them get wifi set up and a local builder Phil (Leon Stewart) investigates big damp issues in the cellar and proffers an even bigger bill to sort it. Surely nothing else can possibly go wrong for this ideal likeable young family as they settle in to their new home. Surely not.

Hey, where’s the drama if nothing goes awry? And we are not talking about the bath tap not working properly or a plug socket put on upside down in the kitchen or an evil smell from the drains in the backyard. Let’s just say we are talking someone or something unnaturally evil lurking in the shadows and frightening our erstwhile family and others, cast and audience, out of their wits without even mentioning Brexit. The B word  would be too horrifying to be believable.

The House On Cold Hill is classic ghost story fare and superbly told, bending the modern with the dark and dangerous secrets of the past, creepily encroaching upon the present. All this is done with great gusto, some clever laugh inducing moments and a sense of the audience enjoying every minute whether they have read the book or not. Shaun McKenna’s script is a knock out!

Aside from the characters already mentioned we have some super smaller roles that perfectly compliment the dramatic story. These are drippy hippy Annie (Tricia Deighton), Fortinbras (Pádraig Lynch), O’Hare (Simon Balcon). Then there is the erm… old wom.. Oh no, one must be mistaken. Trick of the light.

The House On Cold Hill runs at Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 2nd February and we highly recommend a visit. “Don’t we Alexa? Alexa play some spirit calming music.”

Images credit: Helen Maybanks.

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