The House on Cold Hill by Shaun McKenna based on the book by Peter James. The Mill at Sonning to 26 March 2022. 2**. William Russell

Dinner theatre is tricky to get right and the Mill at Sonning outside Reading is a classic four star instance of getting it just right. The food is good, the location, a converted mill, gorgeous and there is not a bad seat in the amphitheatre type auditorium. The programming is also perfectly suited for its audience – a play with French windows, an Agatha Christie, something with Brian Blessed in it, a Ray Cooney Farce and a musical with tap dancing is what they can expect.
It probably seemed a good idea to try a ghost story for a change, and this one does have an inspired innovation to the genre of the sort of play where things go bump in the night in the haunted house with dotty medium asked to help and assorted locals of distinctly sinister appearance making things difficult for the new owners of the pile in question. The innovation – the fact that much, indeed all, of the menace comes from things electronic misbehaving – mobile phones, laptops and worst of all that poltergeist in the room – Alexa.
But the play has a first act that drags, and when the climactic moment comes at the end of a far brisker and better plotted Act Two it is no surprise having not only been signalled ages before but used before.
The performances are fine and director Keith Myers handles the moments of surprise efficiently enough even if when the inevitable body in the hidden room is revealed it looks distinctly ramshackle and made up of some old bits of cloth and a few coat hangers.
It does seem a little strange, however, to cast Debbie McGee as the medium and then conceal her television image with an immense red wig, the result being she could be anybody. The set looks like bits and pieces left over from various other shows rather than a Gothic pile the foolish family Harcourt has decided to buy, more pile than Gothic.
But that said the evening costs less than a seat at the back of the Upper Circle of a West End show and includes a very good dinner.
Verdict? Biting the hand the fed, it is a two star show in a four or even five star star setting.

Jade: Hanna Boyce.
Chris: Dan Buckley.
Fortinbras: Harry Costelow.
Phil: Kevin Hand.
Cara: Madeleine Knight.
Ollie: Matt Milburn.
Annie: Debbie McGee.

Director: Keith Myers.
Set Designer: Alex Marker.
Costume Designer:Natalie Titchener.
Sound and Visual Effects Designer: Graham Weymouth.
Production photographs: Andreas Lambis.

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