Monday, 06 July 2020

Family ghost tales strike nerve

DO you like it when a shiver runs down your spine? If so, the latest production at Progress Theatre, Reading is for you. Directed by Matt Tully, The Haunting of Hill House has been adapted by F Andrew Leslie from the acclaimed novel by Shirley Jackson.

Sound effects, lighting and set design create an eerie mood from the start as we find ourselves in the parlour of Hill House.

The looming presence and questionable hospitality of housekeeper Mrs Dudley (Carole Hewitt) intensify the atmosphere to sinister and threatening, especially since the doors of the room appear to have a life of their own. This is a house with a reputation for psychic activity — or, to put it bluntly, it’s haunted.

Enter a group of house guests. First two elegant ladies in Fifties attire — the sassy Theodora (Rebecca Douglas) and the more hesitant Eleanor (Anushka Samarasinghe).

They are joined by Dr Montague (Paul Gallantry), who is keen to explore the psychic phenomena of the house and who is able to explain the sad history of previous inhabitants.

Luke (Ollie Mullins) is the heir to the property and brings a refreshing light-heartedness to the conversation. As the party become acquainted, we learn more about their lives and often sad experiences.

It’s not long before events get creepy. Theodora and Eleanor experience a mysterious and terrifying grappling at their door handle and later mystery writing is scrawled upon a wall. Tension mounts as one of the party is increasingly singled out as the focus of the paranormal attention.

The Haunting of Hill House is a bravura production, not least because of vibrant costumes from Helen Wernham.

Cast members work in perfect harmony, one character providing the foil for another. Douglas is magnificent as Theodora; Samarasinghe is convincingly vulnerable as Eleanor; Gallantry provides a steady anchor-man as the doctor; Mullins is well cast as the nonchalant heir to the property. Josephine Metcalf as the dominating Mrs Montague and Peter Cook as her adoring sidekick, Arthur Parker — latecomers to the house party — bring a comic tone. There’s still more unexpected comedy from Hewitt, who is dourly hilarious as the housekeeper.

Until Saturday.

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