THEATRE REVIEW: The House on Cold Hill ★★

The House on Cold Hill
Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
Tuesday 11th - Saturday 15th June 2019

Peter James' is known for his best selling books, having sold over 19 million copies to date in 37 different languages, with 'The House on Cold Hill' the fourth installment to get the theatrical makeover, following on from its predecessors The Perfect Murder (2014) Dead Simple (2015) and Not Dead Enough (2017). What runs in common with the adaptions usually is what's known as stunt casting, bringing well known TV stars on stage, with the likes of Shane Richie, who has featured in two installments, Jessie Wallace, Laura Whitmore, Tina Holbey, and Gray O'Brien to name  few, with this latest offering being no different, featuring Holby and Strictly star Joe McFadden (Ollie) and EastEnders Duo Rita Simons (Caro) and Charlie Clements (Chris).

On paper, this production sounds like it would hit the market for an thriller fan; described as a modern thriller, this indeed does come across in the form of a 21st century family moving into an empty and ancient house on the Eve of Ollie's 40th Birthday, with a early present in the form of the technical and voice command gadget Alexa. What coincidences on stage though is a long-winded opening which takes almost half of the first act to initiate any sort of jump scare, which has a tendency in this production to fade to blackout with no follow on from any character development. Also to note is that some jump scares are repeated, take the lady in the mirror, which is used on multiple occasions but brings no real atmosphere to the room or emotional impact on any of the characters, with some plot points never fully stretched out or held long enough to keep our attention, with some happenings left unexplained.

Martin Hodgson's sound design is unoriginal in adding any suspence to the moment; the use of surround sound would have been more ideal in capturing a sense of belief from the audience to feel more apart of the action. Certain moments, again with repeated effects, come across harsh to the ears and doesn't make any realistic meaning, which relates heavily to the 'gas pipes', someone which seems to be put at full volume to allow jumps even when there's no build-up to any sort of moment on stage. The acting also feels too theatrical with no reign in bringing any motion of realism to the piece; Persephone Swales-Dawson as daughter Jade in particular brings no clear vocal diction, projection, or mannerism to her character, with most of her words lost when not spoken out to the audience, where her character relies on a phone most of the time, and no real change in tone when any sort of spiritual happening occurs on stage.

To call this production a comedy rather than a thriller would be more fitting; a cheap strictly gag referencing Ollie's dancing when compared to McFadden's real life stint on the show comes off as cringe worthy and cheap, as this continues due to the simple fact that no tension is built on throughout the production, apart from one moment before the end of the first act, which again throws the genre about in a moment which loses the audience's attention. Ian Talbot's direction is simply amateur, relying a lot on using furniture to allow characters to sit for long periods of time, or for characters to tell ghost stories with no vision of expressing this out go the audience, which is real shame when you compare it to Michael Holt's stunning set design which truly does take you back and believe in this convincing old estate, described as the courtyard to the house before a roof was placed on top.

Overall, The House on Cold Hill is anything put a thriller, and whilst in the theatrical world you would be told to stay away from such a haunted house, in the real world we would advise you to stay away from this production completely, unless you are looking for a night of laughter and cheap, unoriginal theatrical tricks at the theatre.


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