Review: The Haunting of Hill House – Liverpool Playhouse

Chipo Chung & Emily Bevan. Credit: Gary Calton
“SOMETHING terrifying is coming to Liverpool” the publicity told us, and we are invited to feel the fear in this winter offering from Liverpool Playhouse. What better as a foil to all the Panto over Christmas than a traditional ghost story, and stories don’t get much ghostlier than this one. Rather more creepy than shocking, Hill House sneaks up in the dark and chills the blood as much by what is hinted at as by what we actually see. Ghostly shadows and mysterious noises keep us gripped in a suspensefully paced narrative. In a hybrid of Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel and the classic 1963 film, author Anthony Nielson has created a faithful rendering while adding his own twist to the ending, which removes some of the original ambiguity over Eleanor’s fate. The design team make a bold, cinematic statement from the outset, with an illuminated proscenium that tricks our eyes into seeing an exaggerated perspective. Much of the set is virtual, projected onto layers of gauze, but the designs are spectacular in their three-dimensional detail, and the ability to move and distort what the audience sees is key to the production. Physical elements of staging are kept moving by a double revolve, and the actors weave in and out of it as the house appears to dance with their characters. Martin Turner is a mysterious Dr Montague, who has invited guests to hill house to further his paranormal research. He has both the face and the voice to recall some of the favourite performers from Hammer’s gothic horrors. Jane Guernier is both the unwilling housekeeper Mrs Dudley, and a somewhat batty but rather unnerving Celia Markway, seemingly channelling Madame Arcati, and bringing some subtle comic relief.
Emily Bevan. Credit: Gary Calton
Emily Bevan. Credit: Gary Calton
Emily Bevan shines as Eleanor, the fragmentation of her character exaggerated by clever use of voice projection. Chipo Chung is the bohemian Theodora, and while her sexuality may not be as startling to a modern audience as it was in 1959, her air of mystery makes up for it. The cast is completed by an understatedly elegant Luke from Joseph May. Nick Powell’s composition and sound design surround us in a sonic landscape that completes the atmosphere. This is one of the most technically challenging stagings ever created at the Playhouse and the technical and stage crew need special mention for holding it all together with split-second timing. 5 Stars: Great storytelling and technical genius bring a classic psychological thriller to the stage with tremendous flair. Reviewed by Nigel Smith The Haunting of Hill House Liverpool Playhouse 07 December 16 January