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The House On Cold Hill at The Mill at Sonning

I wonder if The House on Cold Hill would be better adapted as a parody, or at least something with tongue-in-cheek elements in it. This production, to be blunt, takes itself too seriously. Some voice or other tells the main characters to leave, or else they will never be able to do so. They refuse to budge, and so they only have themselves to blame for whatever calamities occur: it’s not as if they weren’t given sufficient warning. The show ends, somewhat abruptly, raising more questions than answers.

The House on Cold Hill - Photo by Andreas Lambis.
The House on Cold Hill – Photo by Andreas Lambis.

The house is, apparently, falling apart, with substantial remedial works required. The front room, where the whole play takes place, seems unaffected. The new owners of the property, Ollie (Matt Milburn) and Caro (Madeleine Knight) Harcourt, rely heavily on technology, particularly their Amazon Alexa device. Their daughter, Jade (Hannah Boyce) is very active on social media. But for some reason Ollie gets his cheque book out to pay his building contractor Phil (Kevin Hand): I suppose it’s just as well the builder wasn’t one of those dodgy tradesmen who insists on being paid cash in hand.

Annie (Debbie McGee) contacts whatever spirits or ghosts are spooking the haunted house. Annie doesn’t, ultimately, have much to do – it’s hardly Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit, and the Harcourts in any event also have Fortinbras (Harry Gostelow), the local vicar, calling in on them. He can’t arrange for an exorcism because that’s not what the Church calls it anymore. It would be a ‘service of deliverance’. A pity, then, whatever it is, that the audience was denied seeing it.

Completing the set of on-stage characters is Chris (Dan Buckley), a technology freelancer (from what I could gather) – I’m not entirely convinced someone as tech-savvy as Ollie (a website designer, no less) would require another pair of hands to deal with IT matters, though evidently if he has the money to buy a sprawling country estate, there’s cash to splash elsewhere too.

The spooky stuff largely happens elsewhere, off-stage, which made it rather difficult to maintain engagement with the play. There could have been, for instance, a scene change into another room – the taps are suddenly running at full blast upstairs, but the audience only hears the sound effect, which stops a few seconds after Ollie ventures up a staircase (make of that what you will). By keeping the action away from the stage, there is nothing to see that would make audiences feel frightened. Be still, my beating heart. Oh, it is.

There is, I suppose, some subtle commentary on the impact of technology on family life. But none of the characters are well developed, and there is a distinct lack of dramatic tension. Boyce’s Jade is lovely, for example, but why isn’t this teenager the slightest bit irritated – or delighted, for that matter – at having to change schools and move away from her friends? Are Ollie and Caro one of those couples who never argue? Sitting down to read a newspaper, with stories of criminal activity, road traffic accidents and natural disasters, would be a scarier experience than this plodding production.

As it’s part of The Mill at Sonning experience, it’s worth mentioning the pre-show dinner, which was delightful, with superb customer service, making an otherwise mundane evening pleasurable.

2 gold stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

A ghostly story of the Harcourt family, who move into the house of their dreams that has been empty for the last 40 years. However, their dream home quickly turns into the stuff of nightmares as they begin to wonder whether they may not be the only residents at Cold Hill…

THE HOUSE ON COLD HILL is a modern-day supernatural thriller that will send shivers down your spine and make you think twice about returning to a dark, empty house after the show.



3 FEBRUARY – 26 MARCH 2022


2 thoughts on “The House On Cold Hill at The Mill at Sonning”

  1. We saw this yesterday and loved it. I had goosebumps in parts, the acting was good and the not seeing too much meant the atmosphere built up. Think Jaws, the thought of the shark and the aftermath was better than when you saw the rubber puppet.

    Food as mentioned was delicious, the champagne by the glass was lovely so all in all a great night out. 10/10 to The Mill at Sonning

  2. We haven’t been to The Mill for quite a few years and tonight was a spur of the moment decision.

    As always the service and attention from everybody is faultless and the staff are a real credit to this operation.

    Food is wholesome, varied, plentiful and OK but to get the numbers through in the time frame pre show means a self service system has to be adopted.

    I agree with the comments that the spookiness of the play and tension as a modern supernatural thriller is really a bit of a damp squid. There’s a lot of sound effects to try and build the suspense but it didn’t do it for me. Maybe it’s the way The Mill is set up and the intimacy of the theatre, which is part of its charm, but also means the choice of play is crucial.

    However I thought the actors were pretty good with the exception of one person. Annie played by Debbie McGee. I’m sorry but for me she was by far the weakest link. The part demanded not only speech obviously, but also quite a bit of facial and movement expression acting as a medium and someone in touch with the supernatural. Because the audience is so close to the stage every expression and movement is scrutinised. Her acting was stilted, lacked drama, movements were pedestrian and no feeling. Although she doesn’t play a major part and time on stage is limited this is poor casting. Maybe The Mill thought they needed a headline “commercial” name to bring the punters in!

    Prices have been creeping up for quite a few years and it must be extremely difficult for The Mill to make a sustainable profit. So I’m delighted they’ve come through the lockdown with a lot of help from theatre friends and others and I truly wish they will be around for years to come. They deserve it.

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