PrintE-mail Written by Nick Blackshaw

The Haunting of Hill House began life as a novel by Shirley Jackson in 1959. One of the early pioneering works of psychological horror, it was made into the well-received film adaptation The Haunting, directed by Robert Wise in 1963, followed by a much more maligned version in 1999 featuring Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta Jones. Now, it has been adapted for the stage at the Playhouse in Liverpool, with backing from the little-known company, Hammer. What is there to be got from the stage version of such a story? STARBURST went along to find out ...

Eleanor, a vulnerable young woman (played by Emily Bevan), escapes the pressures of home life by accepting an invitation to Hill House by Dr. Montague (Martin Turner) to explore objectively the existence of the supernatural within the house. Upon arrival, Eleanor is introduced to enigmatic housemaid, Mrs. Dudley (Jane Guernier), bohemian Theodora (Chipo Chung), and cynical journalist Luke (Joseph May), both of whom arrive at Hill House for the same purpose. But as the group explore the many disorientating corridors and rooms of the house, their sense of what’s real begins to diminish, but who will end up as the House’s latest victim?

The Haunting of Hill House takes traditional horror back to its roots in this excellent stage adaptation. The characters and audience alike are intimidated by what they can’t see, but as the spirits grow closer, their laughing children, pummelling doors and screams make for some genuine jump out of your seat moments for the audience. Elsewhere, each character is performed excellently by such a magnificent cast, no one outshines the others and they are able to portray their own brand of terror. Meanwhile, the cleverly revolving sets create the disorientating setting of Hill House; you empathise with the characters’ confusion of them getting lost within the house.

The only drawback to this production will be for those expecting a pure adaptation of Jackson’s novel; in order to adapt the novel to the stage it has been necessary for certain aspects of character and narrative to be changed. However, this does not detract from the enjoyment of the audience, delivering one chill after another until the very end!

To round things off, The Haunting of Hill House reminds us how easy it is to frighten an audience through the reactions of characters and suggestion, without the need for excessive gore and violence. Just remember ... when you get home and you hear the floor boards creak or the bedroom door shut on its own, it’s only a play (isn’t it?)


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