First review is in! Nick Fletcher has written the following after tonight's performance!

It’s inevitable, given the world we live in, that people become desensitised to real horror. As well as genuine tragedy – all too evident in any news bulletin we care to switch on – there are ever-more violent online games, gorefest films, and levels of real-life crime and terrorism undreamt of when Shirley Jackson penned her novel ‘The Haunting of Hill House’.


So does Andrew Leslie’s stage adaptation still work for audiences today?


St Nicolas Players’ take on THHH certainly hit the spot for me. Anyone expecting dancing skeletons, zombies knocking on the door and buckets of blood would have come away disappointed, at least until their 30-second attention span had turned to a post-performance kebab meat and chips.


Yes, some people (not the aforementioned, they are merely a product of their time) are genuinely evil, but look again at the title of the play… it’s not Hill House being haunted, but Hill House doing the haunting, and that, surely, is subtle horror on a par with going into your garden and hearing the roses singing to you. That’s what director Martin Tyrrell and his exceptionally talented cast pulled off to perfection.


The plot of the play is simple enough – Dr John Montague (Adam Patman) invites three people to Hill House, ostensibly to assist him investigate the atmosphere that has made it uninhabitable these past 20 years… and help him gather material for a book on the subject.


He warns his guests to watch out for the house ‘catching at them’, and in the case of Eleanor Vance (Colleen Brennan) it does just that. The house sucks her in, as if wanting to make her a part of it, and events end in tragedy.  My goodness, Martin Tyrrell knows how to pick ’em!


Adam Patman who, I think I’m right in saying was cast in his first non-comedic role with St Nics, was totally convincing as Dr Montague… earnest, henpecked, slightly camp and so wrapped up in his academic endeavour that he failed to recognise the warning signs until way too late. Adam had a huge part to learn, but on the night was word-perfect.


So, too, was his formidable wife, played by Amber Sinclair. She was as terrifyingly ignorant of the true nature of Hill House as her awful little sidekick Arthur Parker, who Norman Parish portrayed with total conviction as a bigoted, small-minded headmaster who fancied himself as an action hero: “Don’t worry, I am an excellent shot.”


Dan Zampoli, as Luke Sanderson, heir to Hill House, brought some welcome relief to the proceedings, making light of the manifestations but ultimately proving his mettle when he rescued Eleanor from a grim predicament. Dan is always entertaining to watch, an effortless actor.


The two female leads showed star quality. Sophie Honeybun, as the flighty Theodora, would have given Catherine Zeta-Jones a run for her money, she was that good and easy on the eye. And Colleen Brennan as Eleanor Vance, well, what an eye-opening performance that was! In her first major role with St Nics she dipped into a colour palette of emotions way removed from her natural Irish jollity. She came to Hill House a mixed-up, needy individual, and Hill House then messed with her head even more. “Bravo!” is all I can say to Colleen, who I’m sure we’ll see much more of.


Not forgetting, of course, Emma Dobbs’ portrayal of housekeeper Mrs Dudley. She walked a fine line between being an over-the-top Gothic character and a genuinely sinister individual and, being Emma (she of the husky voice and Dusty Springfield eye-liner) she nailed it.


The special effects, audible and visual, were superb. Dave Edmunds sang: ‘I hear you knocking, but you can’t come in’ but the sound crew took that to a new level. And whose idea was it to have a contorted face appear in a darkened mirror, or a paisley wallpaper pattern suddenly morph into another tortured soul?


This was subtle horror at its best, and if you haven’t already booked a ticket at the South Holland centre to see this haunting play – it’s on for another three nights – get on down and do it. Sleep well, and don’t have nightmares…
 

NODA Show report – The haunting of Hill House

Dr Montague (Adam Patman) – a professor much interested in the supernatural, is keen to uncover the secrets of Hill House, an abandoned Victorian mansion, reputed to be “a place of evil containing ill will”.

 

The remote location is avoided by all who know of its awful reputation and it has long remained empty apart from daily visits by a complaining caretaker, Mrs Dudley (Emma Dobbs), whose curt reception makes it clear that guests should not expect much in the way of service so that they will not be disappointed

Dr Montague, an investigator of supernatural phenomena, has invited three other people to join him - Luke Sanderson (Dan Zampoli), Theodora (Sophie Honeybun) and Eleanor Vance (Colleen Brennan), who are unacquainted but have their own particular reasons for accepting the invitation. This gathering begins informally but during the night unexplained banging sounds and voices are heard. Miss Vance appears to be the person most affected by these happenings.

A few days later Mrs Montague (Amber Sinclair) and her friend Arthur Parker (Norman Parish) arrive at Hill House, also being interested in the supernatural happenings, but their method of investigation is based on accounts provided directly from conversational experiences with departed spirits. Prof Montague is very much against this practice and is of the opinion that evil emanates from the building not from the people who have been in it. The play culminates with one of the persons present being involved in horrendous circumstances.

The cast worked well as a team making their contributions with confidence and quickly getting into character. Lines were clearly delivered and projected well. The costumes were appropriate and I thought the contrasting styles of dress between Theodora and Eleanor was very helpful in defining their characters. The well designed and constructed set could be viewed by the audience on entering the auditorium.

This production was described as “A pre- Hallowe’en fright-fest”, but from the lack of reactions from the audience around me, it was nothing like that. The story is taken from a 1959 gothic horror novel by American author, Shirley Jackson, and is considered one of the best literary ghost stories published during the 20th century; it has been made into two feature films, and is the basis of a Netflix series. The language of Shirley Jackson’s novel is much more creative than that used in the play adaptation and her writing is credited with being a source of inspiration to several writers. It appears that this stage adaptation was not the best medium for portraying this story.

Peter Breach October 2019

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St Nicolas Players 

are affiliated to NODA