By Gillie Tunley and Brenda Sandilands.
Progress Theatre are staging the suspenseful The Haunting of Hill House by F. Andrew Leslie, adapted from the novel by Shirley Jackson. It is directed with chilling panache by Matt Tully and polished production by Tony Wernham.
As we are plunged into reddish darkness, a chill tingles up our spines (menacing mood lighting by Trevor Dale). We are spirited into the gloomily lit, maroon decor living room of Hill House to ghostly music (super spectral soundscape by Stuart McCubbin), where a portrait of the previous inhabitant, Hugh Crane, stares ominously at us from the dark wooden panels… (sinister set design and portraiture by the versatile Peter Cook).
Dr Montague (a blusteringly brilliant portrayal by Paul Gallantry, immaculately suited with dangling fob) is seeking scientific evidence for the supernatural and has invited select guests to the notorious Hill House. The first to arrive is the hesitant Eleanor (a performance of compelling intensity by Anushka Samarasinghe) then, in direct contrast, the confident Theodora (the delectably playful Rebecca Douglas). Both are ‘welcomed’ by the monosyllabic Mrs Dudley (a hilariously deadpan performance by Carole Hewitt), who recites the house rules in a weary monotone. Then adds ‘I am gone before dark comes’…
But the fearless heir to the house, Luke Sanderson (a swaggeringly assured performance by Ollie Mullins) is undeterred – perhaps we will see a ‘disembodied hand in the soup’? he sneers.
But darkness falls only too soon and the terror and tension build, with things that go bump in the night, eerie laughter and door handles that move… it is a nail-biting ride. The sense of relief is tangible when dawn finally arrives.
The mood lifts as the flamboyant Mrs Montague (played with boisterous elan by Josephine Metcalf) bursts expansively onto the spectral scene, in vibrant kaftan and brightly bejewelled turban (wonderful wardrobe throughout by Helen Wernham), towing the hapless ‘Twit of the Year’ Arthur Parker behind her – a superbly silly portrayal by Peter Cook, whose task it is to patrol the corridors of this dark and dangerous house, brandishing a torch and a revolver. She favours the arcane planchette approach to unravelling the secrets of the resident spirits, much to the dismay of her stoic and scientific husband – there are some deliciously funny exchanges between them.
We continue on this ghostly roller coaster trajectory towards an extraordinarily emotional denouement. This is truly thrilling theatre – don’t miss it!
Doors open for The Haunting of Hill House at the Progress Theatre, The Mount, Reading RG1 5HL at 7.45pm each evening from Monday 24 February until Saturday 29 February. There is also a performance at 2pm on Saturday 29 February. Tickets can be bought online.