The beautiful Mill at Sonning might be an hour out of London but their recent production of Top Hat proved it is well worth the trip. Not only to get you shows of the highest quality, you get an incredible experience. Their latest offering is a stage adaptation of The House on Cold Hill.
Based on the book by Peter James, it has been adapted for the stage by Shaun McKenna. A supernatural thriller, it tells the story of a family moving into a long abandoned house only to find they might not be the only ones living there.
Directed by Keith Myers, the use of staging is creative, with fantastic set design by Alex Marker, trying to get the scale of such a big house in one small space isn't an easy task, but she creates a sprawling mult-levelled set that is surrounded by the audience in what could be described as immersive theatre. Great lighting and visual effects create the illusion of the ghosts in the mansion to clever effect.
The cast is led by Matt Milburn and Madeleine Knight as married couple Ollie and Caro. Knight is a standout as the troubled wife who slowly accepts what is happening. Scenes with her daughter Jade, played by Hannah Boyce, are a highlight. The remaining characters have the tendency to be underused with Dan Buckley a highlight as Chris. The play also makes the acting debut for Debbie McGee who is as lovely as ever as medium Annie, though if you're wondering how long she spends on stage, it's not a lot.
It's always hard to create genuine scares on stage. More often than not, they can fall flat and run the risk of becoming more funny than actually scary. Unfortunately, these problems are in place at The House on Cold Hill. It doesn't detract from the story, but it does prevent it being as terrifying as you would hope. Comparisons to the recently staged 2:22 are inevitable, thanks in part to both of their reliance on an Alexa device - though that production probably does the ghost story slightly better than this one does.
When you go to the Mill at Sonning, you are seeing more than just a show. The whole experience before the performance plays a part in the evening, with a stunning meal on hand for all guests before you take your seat for the main event. The gorgeous setting both inside and surrounding the Mill makes it a beautiful day out, no matter what the performance turns out to be like - though thankfully they're always at a certain high standard.
The payoff in The House on Cold Hill isn't as satisfying as you might hope, with part of its climax taking place off stage and falling slightly flat. Where the play is at its best is when it doesn't rely on the effects or the spooky goings on, focusing solely on the amazing cast interacting with eachother. The doubts and suspicion that go on between them with divisions forming is where the play is the most riveting. More of this would have gone a long way.
While it might not be the greatest ghost story you will see on a stage, The House on Cold Hill is still a highly enjoyable evening. With a fantastic cast and an impressive set along with the overall experience at the Mill, you're bound to be leaving with a smile on your face... even if you don't quite have a shiver down your spine.
The House on Cold Hill plays at the Mill at Sonning until March 26th. Tickets from www.millatsonning.com
Photos by Andreas Lambis