The House on Cold Hill
The thrilling work of multi-million selling author Peter James returns to theatres and comes to Southend this April with the world premiere production of the spine-chilling stage play The House on Cold Hill. Adapted from his best-selling 2015 novel and based on the author’s own real-life experience in a haunted house, it stars Rita Simons (EastEnders) as ‘Caro Harcourt’ alongside Joe McFadden (The Crow Road, Heartbeat, Holby City) as ‘Ollie Harcourt.’
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…
This modern-day ghostly thriller that will send shivers down your spine. We spoke to Rita and Joe to find out more…
What drew you to The House On Cold Hill?
Joe: It’s really well written with really interesting characters. There’s some real tension in there and no-one in the play is what they first seem to be, which makes it so intriguing. It keeps you guessing right up until the last minute.
Rita: I’m a massive fan of mysteries and thrillers. I couldn’t put the script down when I first read it – I was gripped!
How would you sum up your respective characters?
Joe: On the face of it Ollie seems to have everything going for him. He’s just sold his advertising company, he has this great family and it seems like he has this brilliant life, then that slowly gets unravelled throughout the course of the evening. He’s very happy and optimistic that he’s got this house. He’s got the house of his dreams. In his childhood he was asked to draw the house he’d most like to live in and it’s exactly the house he ends up buying. But in the play everything starts to fall apart and you see his life collapsing around him. That makes for an interesting progression as a character.
Rita: Caro is a very family-oriented wife and mother but, as a solicitor, someone who is also very driven. I think she wears the trousers in the marriage but [laughs] I think all women wear the trousers and are quietly in control. She’s a smart cookie but she loves her family.
What particular challenges does the play present to you as actors?
Joe: I suppose the big challenge is creating tension in the theatre – getting the audience to care and scaring them, getting them wound up in the drama so they care about who we are and what happens to us.
Rita: I’m used to playing extremes. With the last role I did on stage, Legally Blonde, my character was a way-extreme, New York hairdresser and my TV roles have always been really gritty and I’m often in hysterics or someone’s died. So what’s quite difficult for me is that in the beginning when we’re setting up the tension it’s quite even-tempered and that’s a hard place to place yourself as an actress, not having hysterics of any sort. It’s always easier to play one extreme or the other.
What do you feel makes Peter James unique amongst thriller writers?
Joe: He’s so good at creating tension and suspense. I remember reading Dead Simple and being completely horrified by it, with this character being buried alive. I had to stop reading it a few times because it was so upsetting. It’s brilliant that Peter has such a loyal audience. This is the fourth time one of his books has been turned into a play and there’s a real hunger for it.
Rita: Like all of Peter’s books The House On Cold Hill is such a page-turner. That’s why they make such good stage adaptations. You get that sense of tension exactly as if you were turning a page and also because it’s modern-day people can really relate to his stories.
Do you scare easily yourselves?
Joe: I do, yes. I do Shocktoberfest, going to places like Thorpe Park and Alton Towers for all the scary rides. And I love watching horror films. The films in the Insidious series are particularly terrifying.
Rita: I don’t scare at all, probably because I grew up watching horror films and am immune to them now. The only film that’s ever scared me as an adult is The Exorcist, especially because I watched the making-of documentary beforehand and so much weird stuff went on on set.
What are you most looking forward to about taking the show on tour?
Joe: What I really like is how each audience is really different and the further north you go they seem to get warmer, especially when you go to Scotland. They’re quite vocal up there. I also like how the play can change in each venue depending on how much an audience gives to us.
Rita: Audiences give you such a different reaction depending on where you are and that means you in turn give them something different every night. I also love how during the day you get to explore different places, places which you’d probably never go to if you weren’t touring. I just love seeing different parts of the country.
The tour calls at Southend Palace Theatre. Does it have any significance for you?
Rita: My grandparents used to live there and I remember going to Peter Pan’s Playground, as it was called back then. We used to visit them every Sunday from Hertfordshire and I used to think it was the longest journey in the world, even though it really isn’t but when you’re five you’re impatient, aren’t you?
Rita and Joe star in The House on Cold Hill which comes to Southend’s Palace Theatre from 1-6 April 2019. For tickets and more information visit: www.southendtheatres.org.uk or call the Box Office on 01702 351135