Review: The Haunting of Hill House

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Chipo Chung and Martin Turner in The Haunting of Hill House at Liverpool Playhouse. Pic © Gary Calton

Chipo Chung and Martin Turner in The Haunting of Hill House at Liverpool Playhouse. Pic © Gary Calton

If you’re already sick of pantos, twinkly lights and festive cheer, you’ll be pleased to know that the Playhouse is serving up a slice of horror this winter season.

Adapted from Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel, ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ is decidedly un-Christmassy.

By way of complex theatrical sorcery, terrifying audio and minimalistic scenery, we are transported headlong into Anthony Neilson’s Hill House – a brilliant gothic manor at the very epicentre of nightmarish and supernatural terror.

We meet journalist Luke (Joseph May), the kind of man who thinks anything – including paranormal encounters it would seem – can be solved by a fifth of scotch. Then there is bohemian Theodora (Chipo Chung) and intriguing Eleanor (Emily Bevan) an at-first-glance drab, thirty-something woman who quickly begins to unravel, revealing herself a little more with each and every evocative soliloquy.

Enter the mysterious Dr Montague (Martin Turner), who has invited the three strangers to join him at the house in the hopes of unearthing its deadly past.

The cast is helped along by an over-dramatic spiritualist Celia (Angela Clerkin) and Mrs Dudley (Jane Guernier), the stony-faced housekeeper who provides subtle, self-aware humour by telling characters from the outset that there is no one around for miles to hear them.

Chipo Chung and Emily Bevan in The Haunting of Hill House at Liverpool Playhouse. Pic © Gary Calton

Chipo Chung and Emily Bevan in The Haunting of Hill House at Liverpool Playhouse. Pic © Gary Calton

But the real star of the show had to be the stage itself. Designers Miriam Buether (set) and Jack Knowles (lighting) outdid themselves with layer upon layer of projection and backcloth, carefully chosen spotlights and out-of-focus scenery that keep you from feeling as though you’re ever really seeing the full stage –all the while wondering what lurks in the shadows.

Meanwhile, Nick Powell (sound) keeps you on the edge of your seat by bringing the house to life with hair-raising creaks and ghoulish groans.

The only real downfall of the performance was perhaps its chief aim: to be truly frightening. The Haunting of Hill House was, at times, clumsy in its reliance upon cheap jump-scares, but nevertheless it was a fantastic psychological horror that kept audiences guessing from beginning to end.

The Haunting of Hill House runs at the Playhouse until January 16th.

About Elle Spencer, JMU Journalism