WITH the world of SFX at the fingertips of television and film producers it’s always going to be a risky business to try and scare an audience in live theatre with a full-on ghost story.
Unlike film where if a mirror gets shattered, the broken glass disappears like magic and we don’t question how, doing this on a stage and it means that crew have to come on and reset the scene, so the actors then have to work twice as hard to bring us back into tense mode.
I write metaphorically as I don’t recall broken glass but there is much other resetting that has to happen in this stage adaptation of thriller writer Peter James’ ‘The House on Cold Hill’ at Birmingham’s Alexandra Theatre.
So all credit to the designer Michael Holt and video designer Nina Dunn for doing a splendid job of creating a magnificent on stage chill zone. Here ghosts appear in abundance and from every window and balcony – particularly the nastiest one known as ‘The Lady in Grey’.
Doors slam, winds blow, things fly through the air – even the ironing board has a mind of its own – of course though all of these special effects would be for naught were in not complemented by live talent – which it is.
Joe McFadden (Casualty and of course ‘Strictly’ finalist) plays Ollie the web designer who has stupidly bought this haunted house along with his lawyer wife Caro (Roxy Mitchell from Eastenders – Rita Simons). They both give intelligent and believable performances and importantly make us as care about what may happen to them.
Charlie Clements (Bradley Branning from Eastenders) plays Chris, a computer geek brought in by Ollie to make the house a hi-tech haven from which to run his web design business.
It becomes apparent that Chris also has a complete fascination with the spirit world – not the best sort of geek to bring into your already spooky new home so it proves –not unexpectedly the spooks love all the wireless gadgetry and become as happy as the weasels in Toad hall. I’ll be very wary of my ‘Amazon Alexa’ from now on
Persephone Swales-Dawson plays Jade, Ollie and Caro’s uppity daughter. Persephone recently won ‘best bad girl’ as Nico Blake in Hollyoaks.
Looking at this line-up you could be forgiven for feeling you were at a soap opera reunion.
It’s understandable though why the casting includes these names as they all have a faithful following as was obvious from the curtain call reaction by the audience to their favourites. Possibly they have brought a new audience to the theatre, which has to be a good thing in itself.
The four very competent soap star leads are joined by Tricia Deighton as Annie, a ‘Madame Arcati type character – house-cleaner and would-be medium, Padraig Lynch as Fortinbras the local vicar, Leon Stewart as Phil the builder and Simon Balcon as O’Hare.
The whole company work together harmoniously and build the tensions to a very satisfying climax, which merges film, lighting and action in a spectacle that succeeds in getting the hairs on your neck to rise a little.
No spoilers as I hope you go and discover for yourself what happens at the end of director Ian Talbots’ well executed finale.
The show runs until Saturday, May 11,
Review by Euan Rose.