Peter James’ spine-chiller hits the Worthing stage

Peter James
Peter James

The stage version of Peter James’ spine-chilling novel The House On Cold Hill hit the road on tour earlier this year.

Now it heads to Worthing’s Connaught Theatre (Monday to Saturday, June 3-8).

And Brighton-based Peter couldn’t possibly be more pleased: “The reaction has been fantastic. It has had the best reviews of all the plays I have had, and it is doing phenomenally well. I am just astonished, but I think people enjoyed the book and now the cast are brilliant. I think people like it because it is just real entertainment.”

In Peter’s ghostly mystery, the Harcourt family – Ollie, Caro and daughter Jade – move into the house of the dreams that has been empty for the last forty years. However, their dream home quickly turns into the stuff of nightmares as they begin to sense that they aren’t the only residents at Cold Hill…

“I have worked very closely with Shaun McKenna who has adapted the three previous adaptations,” Peter says, “and he is wonderful to work with. He is very sympathetic and wants to keep the integrity of the book.

“The biggest challenge is that with a novel you have complete freedom.

“If you want to locate it all over Sussex, then you can, and there is quite an important scene in the book where the father is driving along in the car and has got his daughter with him, and she tells him that she thinks she has seen a ghost. Obviously you can’t have someone driving along in a play.

“And also it is quite a big cast of characters in the book whereas particularly when you are touring, you have got to limit the cast of characters in a play probably to ten.

“Also one of the early things you have got to think about is the set.

“The book moves around the house and the garden and into the centre of Brighton and into the village. You just don’t have that luxury with a play. It has got to be condensed… but in a way I think that works because you want to have a claustrophobic feeling, and I think the stage can really work for that. Another thing is that I have tried to introduce some modern elements. We have got a haunted Alexa! They are creepy things in their own right, but now we have actually got a haunted one.

“But the thing I love about the theatre is watching the audience, and I have learnt so much from the previous plays.

“I love to sit at the back of the audience and watch the audience reaction. It is so interesting to see what works and doesn’t work, and it is not always what you predict.

“With a book, every single copy is the same that gets printed, but with a play, every performance is different. An actor might fluff a line. Something might happen. It will always be a different audience, and that is a big part of the fascination.”

Peter has certainly found that suggestion can work very well on stage – a key part of this particular story: “There is a lot that you can do with lighting and also with sound. And it is interesting to experience it right at the back. When you read a book, everything is in your imagination whereas on stage you are almost bombarded with sounds and effects and visual things. I remember seeing The Woman In Black, and that was a big influence. I think the important thing is not to overdo it. For me, it feels that it is always the subtle things that work best. That ‘What was that that I just saw?’ moment. The ‘Did I really see it moment?’ And then suddenly there is someone standing right behind you!”

The play stars BAFTA nominated actor and winner of BBC1’s Strictly Come Dancing 2017.

Joe McFadden (The Crow Road, Heartbeat, Holby City) as Ollie Harcourt. Joining him as his wife Caro Harcourt will be Rita Simons, who played Roxy Mitchell in EastEnders.

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