The House on Cold Hill

4
Peter James' novel adapted by Shaun McKenna and seen at The Mill at Sonning.
By Robert Iles - 12th Feb 2022

It is always a pleasure to go to a production at The Mill at Sonning. It is a beautiful location with a friendly and comfortable bar, where you can still see the waterwheel turning, and the ticket comes with a lovely 2 course meal (+coffee) where you can select from a generous buffet of hot food and a selection of deserts.

The theatre itself has quite a small auditorium and is wider than it is deep which means that no one is far from the stage. This layout can work both for and against a production though fortunately the director in this case, Keith Myers, is very familiar with the venue and its special requirements which are mostly handled excellently with just a few occasions where there was some over-projection by the actors, somrehing not required in such a small space and out of keeping with the otherwise naturalistic handling.

It is a difficult trick to produce a truly scary ghost story on stage and much relies on the juxtaposition of the credibly natural and subtly presented supernatural. We have to believe in the lives we are seeing in order to care about their peril. Fortunately the cast, particularly Madeleine Knight, Dan Buckley and Hannah Boyce, provide us with a genuinely credible group of characters against which the horror can play out. At first, I found the ghostly aspects unconvincing, partly because we are so close to the stage that it is hard to create truly subtle effects, but by the second half I found the hairs were rising on the back of my neck at appropriate points so I must have bought into the effects a lot more than I expected! 

I know the original Peter James book, which is excellent. The trope of "family move into a new house that appears to be haunted" is so widely used that it can grow very stale but this story falls into none of the usual patterns and surprises and shocks to the very end. Shaun McKenna has done an excellent job of condensing the core story into a play - all of the key elements are there and we are entertained, surprised and, yes ,even scared in equal measure. 

Good food + good theatre = a good evening out!


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