The House on Cold Hill – Review – Hull New Theatre
By Karl Hornsey, March 2019
I’ve immersed myself in the world of Peter James over these last few days, specifically his 2015 novel The House on Cold Hill, ahead of watching the stage adaptation at Hull New Theatre. James is best known for his phenomenally successful series of crime novels involving Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, but The House on Cold Hill is a departure from that genre and a throwback to the good old-fashioned ghost story.
It’s fair to say that if you’re a fan of the novel, you’ll enjoy the stage production, and if you’ve watched the stage production without having read the novel, there’s every chance that you’ll then want to. As with all good translations, there are elements of the book that are kept in place, but also much that is changed to make it work within the limitations of the theatre.
There are several strands of the author’s life in this story – it’s set near Brighton, where James was born, features a storyline about classic cars (one of James’s passions) and, of course, is centred on his own interest and experiences of the paranormal.
While the novel builds up over a few weeks, the play takes place in just a matter of days, and focuses on the Harcourt family – Ollie, Caro and daughter Jade – who have moved a few miles away from their city life in Brighton to Cold Hill House, a Georgian mansion that has laid empty for more than 40 years. And with good reason as it turns out.
Web designer Ollie, the upbeat, positive and almost childlike enthusiast, is played by Joe McFadden, who tries to keep the family together despite all that’s going on around them. Hannah Lindsey proved a more than adequate understudy for Rita Simons as his solicitor wife Caro, while former Hollyoaks star Persephone Swales-Dawson and ex-EastEnder Charlie Clements complete the cast of key characters, as the aforementioned Jade and Ollie’s technical ‘geek’ Chris.
“Builds the tension”
There was a time when ghost stories seemed to have disappeared from the scene, perhaps until The Blair Witch Project put a different take on them and brought them into the modern world, but in my opinion, little can beat a good ghost yarn. The House on Cold Hill is very much in the mould of a traditional creepy tale, but given a distinctly modern twist by the author and stage adaptor Shaun McKenna. The ingenious use of an Alexa typifies this and moves the story forwards, along with the role played by Jade’s friend Phoebe on her smartphone and some curious goings-on with Ollie’s website customers.
There’s always a difficulty in reviewing such a story given the overarching need to not give the ending away, and the novel builds the tension well to make it a proper page-turner. And as for the stage play? Well I’ll have to let you find that out for yourselves… just don’t have nightmares…