Saturday 16 May 2009

The Haunting of Hill House

The play of this name is the Festival production by Brighton Little Theatre and what a magnificent job they made of it. It was adapted for the stage by F. Andrew Leslie from the novel by Shirley Jackson. I think it has been filmed at least twice and the 1999 version directed by Jan de Bont used all the techniques of  the  special-effects department to terrorise its audience. How could BLT possibly compete with this? Well they did, and brilliantly. 

To set the scene I can't do better than to quote the programme:" The events depicted here are very frightening and may be disturbing to those of a delicate nature. Hill House stands by itself against the hills, holding darkness within. It has stood for 130 years . . . silence lies steadily against the wood and stone, and whatever walks there walks alone."  

The audience then enters a dimly-lit, mist-filled auditorium and gropes to find their seats which turn out to provide a viewpoint as if from  behind the fireplace of a dark, wood-panelled drawing room. A corner of the fine set  served, with the aid of ingenious lighting,  for the bedroom scenes where Eleanor ( Andrea Jamieson) is spine-chillingly haunted by her mother. All 7 of the  cast gave excellent performances and Harry Atkinson's very convincing  "Dr Montague" should have a special mention. But the whole purpose of the play is to terrorise and top-billing for the evening must go to the sound effects. Sometimes sudden, making one jump out of one's seat, sometimes carefully orchestrated to create a sense of growing menace, sometimes seeming to involve the whole audience as they reverberated around the auditorium and always spot on for timing, these were a real triumph for designer Beverley Grover and operator  Maria Dunn. 

Their next production is Noel Coward's "Hay Fever",  23rd to 27th June.


  1. When I lived in Chelmsford with my parents, our house was called Hill House. It too was haunted.

    My mother often reported that at night the temperature would suddenly drop, a fetid smell would pervade the bedrooms and strange animal grunting noises could be heard. On a few occasions, she said she caught glimpses of a ghastly apparition moving about on the landing.

    I never saw or heard any of this and apparently the manifestations stopped when I moved out.

    I don't suppose I'll ever get to the bottom of it now. It will have to remain one of life's great mysteries.

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