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Joe McFadden & Rita Simons star in The House on Cold Hill

Posted on 10 January 2019

Following the incredible sell-out success of Not Dead Enough, The Perfect Murder and Dead Simple, bestselling author Peter James is back in 2019 with the stage premiere of his spine-chilling thriller, The House on Cold Hill, showing at the Belgrade Theatre in February.

The story begins when the wealthy Harcourt family move into the house of their dreams, which has mysteriously stood empty for forty years. However, the dream move quickly turns into the stuff of nightmares when they begin to wonder whether they might not be the only residents at Cold Hill.

BAFTA-nominated actor and 2017 winner of BBC1’s Strictly Come Dancing, Joe McFadden ( Heartbeat, Holby City ) stars as Ollie Harcourt alongside Rita Simons as Caro. Best known for playing Roxy Mitchell in EastEnders, Rita recently had the nation gripped with her stint in the I’m A Celebrity jungle.

Ahead of the show’s arrival in Coventry 11-16 February, we caught up with Joe and Rita to find out more about what to expect from this modern-day supernatural thriller.

Peter James, Rita Simons & Joe McFadden

What drew you to The House On Cold Hill?

Joe: It’s really well written with really interesting characters. There’s some real tension in there and no-one in the play is what they first seem to be, which makes it so intriguing. It keeps you guessing right up until the last minute.

Rita: I’m a massive fan of mysteries and thrillers. When I was a kid and probably way too young I loved watching really scary films and I’m into anything mysterious or scary, which this certainly is in places. I couldn’t put the script down when I first read it – I was gripped!

How would you sum up your respective characters?

Joe: On the face of it Ollie seems to have everything going for him. He’s just sold his advertising company, he has this great family and it seems like he has this brilliant life, then that slowly gets unravelled throughout the course of the evening. He’s very happy and optimistic that he’s got this house. He’s got the house of his dreams. In his childhood he was asked to draw the house he’d most like to live in and it’s exactly the house he ends up buying. But in the play everything starts to fall apart and you see his life collapsing around him. That makes for an interesting progression as a character.

Rita: Caro is a very family-oriented wife and mother but as a solicitor, she’s someone who is also very driven. I think she wears the trousers in the marriage but [laughs] I think all women wear the trousers and are quietly in control. She’s a smart cookie but she loves her family.

Are there ways in which you can relate to them?

Joe: I’m quite like Ollie in how he doesn’t believe in the supernatural or the occult, although I’m probably more open to it than he is. He very much has decided that all that stuff doesn’t exist.

Rita: I am a wife and a mother and I do love my kids but I don’t have a Barbour jacket! Although interestingly, I do come from a family of solicitors – my mum, my brother, my grandfather. But I’m the odd bod of the family who wanted to become an actress.

Rita Simons & Joe McFadden

What particular challenges does the play present to you as actors?

Joe: I suppose the big challenge is creating tension in the theatre – getting the audience to care and scaring them, getting them wound up in the drama so they care about who we are and what happens to us.

Rita: I’m used to playing extremes. With the last role I did on stage, Legally Blonde, my character was a way-extreme, New York hairdresser and my TV roles have always been really gritty and I’m often in hysterics or someone’s died. So what’s quite difficult for me is that in the beginning when we’re setting up the tension it’s quite even-tempered and that’s a hard place to place yourself as an actress, not having hysterics of any sort. It’s always easier to play one extreme or the other.

What do you feel makes Peter James unique amongst thriller writers?

Joe: He’s so good at creating tension and suspense. I remember reading Dead Simple and being completely horrified by it, with this character being buried alive. I had to stop reading it a few times because it was so upsetting. It’s brilliant that Peter has such a loyal audience. This is the fourth time one of his books has been turned into a play and there’s a real hunger for it.

Rita: Like all of Peter’s books The House On Cold Hill is such a page-turner. That’s why they make such good stage adaptations. You get that sense of tension exactly as if you were turning a page and also because it’s modern-day people can really relate to his stories.

Joe: So many ghost stories are old-fashioned and often set in, like, Victorian times but this one is bang up-to-date. It’s got all the tech like Alexa, Facebook and all that. Alexa in it is really weird and says all this strange stuff, but then I find it weird anyway that people would have something in their house that’s always listening.

Peter James and the cast of The House on Cold Hill

Why do you think audiences are drawn to theatrical spine-tinglers?

Joe: It’s the immediacy, isn’t it? You can see a story unrolling in front of you and you can’t press ‘Pause’ or get distracted by stuff. You’re right there, a captive audience, so when something is scary in the theatre it’s proper scary. I did a ghost story a few years ago, an Alan Ayckbourn play called Haunting Julia, and sensing that tension in an audience makes you feel really powerful as an actor – knowing that you’re scaring the bejesus out of people.

Rita: I think audiences love to be on the edge of their seat and sometimes jumping out of it in a theatre full of other people feeling that same tension. This is my first thriller so it’s all new for me. In fact, it’s my first stage play as opposed to a musical so it’s scary for different reasons.

Do you scare easily yourselves?

Joe: I do, yes. I do Shocktoberfest, going to places like Thorpe Park and Alton Towers for all the scary rides. And I love watching horror films. The films in the Insidious series are particularly terrifying.

Rita: I don’t scare at all, probably because I grew up watching horror films and am immune to them now. The only film that’s ever scared me as an adult is The Exorcist, especially because I watched the making-of documentary beforehand and so much weird stuff went on on set.

The House on Cold Hill shows at the Belgrade Theatre 11-16 Feb. Tickets are available to book now.