Peter James’ spine-chilling The House On Cold Hill is the kind of book that you read through the night anxiously looking around you, every sound and every movement magnified.
Now it is coming to the stage in a version Peter has effectively co-produced, following on from the success of three stage adaptations of his books in fairly rapid succession.
The piece is at the Theatre Royal Brighton from Monday, March 4-Saturday, March 9. In Peter’s ghostly mystery, the Harcourt family – Ollie, Caro and daughter Jade – move into the house of the dreams that has been empty for the last forty years. However, their dream home quickly turns into the stuff of nightmares as they begin to sense that they aren’t the only residents at Cold Hill…
“I have worked very closely with Shaun McKenna who has adapted the three previous adaptations,” Peter says, “and he is wonderful to work with. He is very sympathetic and wants to keep the integrity of the book. The biggest challenge is that with a novel you have complete freedom. If you want to locate it all over Sussex, then you can, and there is quite an important scene in the book where the father is driving along in the car and has got his daughter with him, and she tells him that she thinks she has seen a ghost. Obviously you can’t have someone driving along in a play. And also it is quite a big cast of characters in the book whereas particularly when you are touring, you have got to limit the cast of characters in a play probably to ten.
“Also one of the early things you have got to think about is the set. The book moves around the house and the garden and into the centre of Brighton and into the village. You just don’t have that luxury with a play. It has got to be condensed… but in a way I think that works because you want to have a claustrophobic feeling, and I think the stage can really work for that. Another thing is that I have tried to introduce some modern elements. We have got a haunted Alexa! They are creepy things in their own right, but now we have actually got a haunted one.
“But the thing I love about the theatre is watching the audience, and I have learnt so much from the previous plays. I love to sit at the back of the audience and watch their reaction. It is so interesting to see what works and doesn’t work, and it is not always what you predict. With a book, every single copy is the same that gets printed, but with a play, every performance is different. An actor might fluff a line. Something might happen. It will always be a different audience, and that is a big part of the fascination.”
Peter has certainly found that suggestion can work very well on stage – a key part of this particular story: “There is a lot that you can do with lighting and with sound.”