THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE
by Anthony Neilson based on the novel by Shirley Jackson.
Liverpool Playhouse Williamson Square L1 1EL To 16 January 2016.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm except 4 Jan 9pm.
Mat Sat 2pm & 14 Jan 1.30pm.
Runs 2hr 20min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 14 December.
Darkness and fear lurk powerfully in the mind.
In 1959, the year before Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho did its best to disturb the American motel business, Shirley Jackson’s novel hit the bookshelves. It was later filmed twice and is now adapted for the stage by Anthony Neilson as Liverpool Playhouse’s Christmas spine-tingler.
The Playhouse is developing a tradition of unusual seasonal premieres, often with a Merseyside connection. This, though, is as American as they come, playing to the sinister aspect that lies behind the smiling everyday upbeat mood of US life and TV before political shock-waves disrupted that surface in the sixties.
It’s set, naturally, at night, and in an unfamiliar location, isolated by the darkness from the recognisable world. Jackson focuses on individual fears and pressures, when everything familiar is taken away. Hill House itself, to which it seems Dr Montague has invited three visitors, becomes something of a M C Escher creation, a structure that looks logical moment by moment but overall defies reason, with no certainty anywhere leads where it did, or should, any more.
Things do, of course, go bump – and sometimes more – in the night. For a production where horror film specialists Hammer feature noticeably, no less should be expected. But most significant is the way reactions vary, the most extreme being Emily Beaven’s Eleanor, a character made mentally fragile by family circumstances. Her fears become, primarily, ours.
Which means we need to see things as she experiences them. And that’s often a matter of not seeing very much. A gauze often descends between stage action and audience, the modern cliché of lights blazed in audience eyes acquires a rare aptness, while Jack Knowles’ lighting carefully selects what we see. What’s withheld is most powerful – even, perversely, most explicit in Melly Still’s production.
As projections from 59 Productions and Nick Powell’s score add shocks and surprises, staging and performances create a symphony of dislocation. Designer Miriam Buether’s revolving sets seem to send us down the blind alleys and misdirections perplexing Eleanor, while there’s extra terror in the dysjunction between fully-lit group scenes of comparative safety and the lonely, fearful glimpses of light amid dark.
Eleanor: Emily Bevan.
Theodora: Chipo Chung.
Mrs Dudley: Jane Guernier.
Celia Markway: Angela Clerkin.
Luke: Joseph May.
Dr Montague: Martin Turner.
Director: Melly Still.
Designer: Miriam Buether.
Lighting: Jack Knowles.
Sound/Composer: Nick Powell.
Projections: 59 Productions.
Movement: Al Nedjari.
Voice coach: Tess Dignan.
Dialect coach: Hugh O’Shea.
Assistant director: Max Barton.
Associate designer: Joana Dias.