The Haunting of Hill House

Date 22nd June 2022
Society Wick Theatre Company
Venue The Barn Theatre, Southwick
Type of Production Play
Director Guy Seddon
Assistant Director Suse Crosby

Report

Author: Kay Rowan

The Haunting of Hill House - The haunted house has always been the stuff of nightmares. There’s nothing more compelling than a creaky old house.  With its adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House from the book by Shirley Jackson, Wick Theatre Company has certainly tapped into the human fascination with things that go bump in the night!

In this classic American gothic horror story, Dr. Montague hopes to find scientific evidence of the existence of the supernatural. He rents Hill House for a summer and invites people whom he has chosen because of their experiences with paranormal events. Of these, only Eleanor and Theodora accept. They will live in isolation with Montague and his assistant (and heir to Hill House) Luke. Meanwhile, a housekeeper tries to warn them of the horrors within, and Dr. Montague’s wife and her assistant turn up with their more traditional approach to spiritualism. Throw them into a haunted house and sit back and watch the fireworks. Nothing quite matches the thrill of watching others tormented—especially from the confines of a theatre seat.

The set was well designed and worked very well - the wood-panelled drawing-room of the Haunted House set on the stage with Eleanor’s bedroom placed on the floor in front of the stage.   The impact of the double-doors closing as if by some supernatural force was most effective. The staircase to the tower was particularly well-done using a screen, gauze and backlighting which gave a third scene without any scene changes. The raising of the screen was a little noisy and perhaps could have been covered by raised voices or music.  This was a very busy and complex play for the techies however they truly rose to the occasion and produced very effective, spine-chilling effects and the ‘smell of the fire’ was particularly realistic if a little scary for some members of the audience.  Both costumes, make up and hair fitted the period well.  There were some changes which were appropriately simple and effective.

Dr Montague the paranormal investigator was very well played by Guy Seddon, who also directed the play.  He got a good balance between being organising and showing empathy.  His guests arrive for the night include Eleanor, a complex role very competently played by Rose Marie Shaw; Theodora, an enthusiastic mystical character, which Naomi Dasilva Perez acted with apparent ease.  They are greeted by a stern unbending housekeeper, Mrs Dudley, so ably acted by Lorena Di Bonito. Luke Sanderson, well-acted by Luke Mepham, Montague’s assistant and relative of the house’s owner, makes up the opening team.  I don’t think this character quite knows why he is there.  The arrival of Mrs Montague and her strange friend Arthur Parker gets everything hurrying along. Nicola Russell was particularly forthright and John Garland suitably submissive but with an air of ‘know it all”.

This was a challenging play to undertake on many levels. . The actors needed to display a changing demeanour as they made the journey from curiosity and scepticism through doubt and fear to outright terror. The play is also very wordy and one character in particular, Dr Montague, had a hefty amount of dialogue to get to grips with and everyone has complex dialogue with emotional changes.  The play is in two acts and although it is not a long play the first act is disproportionately lengthy, approximately one hour twenty- five minutes. I have not had an opportunity to read the script so presume that must be how it is written. I do wonder if it might have been an idea to ask permission to move the end of the first act forward, possibly before the entrance of Mrs Montague and Arthur.

In a nutshell, The Haunting of Hill House, which was really well directed by Guy Seddon and Suse Crosby, was a production that delighted in putting people on the edge of their seats and it certainly did that.