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Published : 09/Oct/2018

The thrilling work of multi-million selling author Peter James returns to Shrewsbury in 2019 with the spine-chilling stage play The House on Cold Hill. Adapted from his best-selling novel and based on the author’s own real-life experience in a haunted house, the play will star BAFTA nominated actor and winner of BBC1’s Strictly Come Dancing 2017, JOE McFADDEN (The Crow Road, Heartbeat, Holby City) and joining him will be award winning actress RITA SIMONS, (who played the iconic Roxy Mitchell in Eastenders).

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...

Speaking ahead of the tour, Joe and Rita explain what appeals to them about the play, discuss more about their characters, and life on tour...

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. That makes for an interesting progression as a character.

Rita: Caro is a very family-oriented wife and mother but, as a solicitor, 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.

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 and 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.

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. 

Having had such varied careers, what are the roles people most recognise you for?

Rita: People shout ‘Roxy” at me about 40 times a day, but then I was on EastEnders for ten years. I’m just used to it now.

Joe: Mine is Holby City mainly and also Heartbeat because they’re both on in the afternoons at the moment.

Do you have a preference between stage and screen?

Joe: I love doing theatre. Getting up on stage and doing plays is the purest form of acting you can do. I did Rainbow Kiss at the Royal Court with Richard Wilson directing. He’s an amazing director and I loved doing that. I did Torch Song Trilogy at the Menier Chocolate Factory a few years ago and that was brilliant. Theatre stuff is the stuff I look back on most fondly because it’s where you learn the most.

Rita: I really love doing TV and film and I love camera work, but then I went into my first musical with Legally Blonde and thought ‘Oh, I really love being on stage’. It’s like comparing apples and oranges. Every job I’ve done so far I’ve loved equally and when it comes to theatre and TV I love them both.

Do you have any pre- or post-show rituals?

Joe: I like to sleep. I love to get in a nap before or between shows. Even on Strictly they were like ‘Have you just had a nap?’ I would literally nap ten minutes before going on live television.

Rita: We are so opposite! I’m climbing the walls while you go to sleep! My only ritual is: Make-up, music on, chilled [laughs] and then build a trench.

Joe: And after a show it’s a little glass of wine and seeing some friends if they’re in but don’t go too wild as you have to do it all again the next day.

Joe and Rita will be joined by award winning actors, Charlie Clements (‘Bradley’ in EastEnders) as Chris, and Persephone Swales-Dawson (villainess Nico Blake in Hollyoaks) as Jade, making her professional stage debut.

THE HOUSE ON COLD HILL opens on Monday 4 February for ONE WEEK ONLY. Tickets are available now from the Box Office (01743 281281) and online.