DramaNorth WestReview

The House on Cold Hill – Opera House, Manchester

Writer: Peter James

Adaptor: Shaun McKenna

Director: Ian Talbot

Reviewer: Frances Scott

Plunging all their money into a rundown 1750s manor in Sussex, the Harcourt family have packed up their city life and relocated for a chance at country living. Freelance web designer, Ollie (Joe McFadden, Heartbeat and Holby City), his high-powered solicitor wife, Caro (Rita Simons, EastEnders) and their sixteen-year-old daughter Jade, discover that their passion project needs more than just TLC when balancing family, work and ghosts becomes a daily challenge.

From the moment the Harcourt’s set foot inside their new home, they are inundated with mysterious locals reluctant to reveal the bleak history of the houses previous inhabitants. While their new friends tease out the grim death of its original owners and the ghostly grey lady that has occupied the house ever since, hidden secrets surrounding the locals are also unsurfaced. As the down to earth family tries to rationalise aberrations, the slow-burning narrative finds each of the Harcourt’s refusing to share their personal encounters with the ghostly presence of the grey lady that inhabits their homes.

With the manor taking over the entire Opera House stage, its two-tiered set places a looming mirror, arched windows and a sky-high interior window within its space to shape the modern ghost story around classic tropes. Audiences will find their eyes darting around Michael Holts impactful designed set as they attempt to catch a projection or glimpse of a supernatural occurrence.

The story that has been adapted from the 2015 novel by bestselling British author Peter James’ leaves many questions unanswered and open for his sequel The Secret of Cold Hill. While the House on Cold Hillis loosely based on James’ own experiences, the short narrative places contemporary oddities alongside mediums, disconcerting characters and its creepy location to offer a familiar narrative that guides the audience to piece together the motives for the ghostly goings-on.

With a story rooted in myth, history and extremely shaky science, director Ian Talbot shifts the delivery of this psychological thriller by concentrating on its modern take, that includes a tech-savvy ghost hijacking an Amazon Alexa. Shaun McKenna’s stage adaption heavily edits out the suspenseful characters that shape the original ghost story, together with any mysteries for the audience to unravel. Its static staging also hinders its action and pacing, placing many of the encounters off stage and forcing the small cast to explain everything. While this production delivers an entertaining mix of humour and jump scares, the classic ghost story loses its sinister connections with a reworked narrative that removes too many personal layers from its characters.

Runs until 18 May 2019 | Image: Helen Maybanks

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