THE HOUSE ON COLD HILL
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry
When Ollie and Caro and their teenage daughter move into their new ‘forever home’ they soon are made aware of the house’s shady past. Local tittle-tattle is rife and before long, strange things are afoot: objects moving, doors slamming, shadowy figures at the window…
And so the stage is set for Peter James’s haunted house thriller. Shaun McKenna’s adaptation uses every trick in the book, so to speak, to give us the conventional shocks and surprises we expect. But what makes this story fresh and alive is it is bang up-to-date, with plenty of current pop culture references along with modern technology being put to use. FaceTime and an Alexa both help further the plot, providing some scary moments.
Joe McFadden is web designer Ollie – he even gets to dance about a little for a quick Strictly in-joke – and he portrays the descent from enthusiastic sceptic to desperate believer with energy, credibility and likeability. Rita Simons plays against type (she was formerly good-time gal Roxy Mitchell in EastEnders) and is fine in a role which has lots of exposition and some great moments of reaction. Persephone Swales-Dawson’s teenaged Jade has to cope with some too-trendy-by-half dialogue, actually saying things like “OMG” and “Lol” rather than reserving such argot for online communication. She also has some great reactive moments.
There is enjoyable character work from Tricia Deighton as local hippy-dippy psychic Annie, and I like Padraig Lynch’s genial vicar, Fortinbras. Charlie Clements (another EastEnders escapee) gives strong support as computer geek, Chris, who may or may not be up to no good, while Leon Stewart makes an impression as Phil the builder.
Ian Talbot’s direction strikes a balance between building tension and releasing it, either with shocks or comic relief, abetted by Michael Holt’s gorgeously gothic set and Jason Taylor’s lighting, which is both subtle and dramatic.
Atmospheric and entertaining, this is a conventional yet effective chiller, a ghost story for our times.