Fine cast let down by play’s punchline

THE CAST of ‘The Haunting of Hill House’, currently running at the Abbey Theatre and produced by Cath Eddie, is excellent.

Thinking back, there is not a performer I would have changed.

The set is also first class, and I would happily live in the room in which most of the action took place.

Sound effects and lighting were superb and downright scary, and I was well to the fore in what P.G. Wodehouse described as the sitting down high jump when sudden loud noises happened.

And yet ...

The only reason I can think of why I left the theatre feeling deflated is that the script, by F. Andrew Leslie from Shirley Jackson’s novel, failed in one important respect - a surprise ending. I’d guessed what would happen long before it did, and I was wondering what the twist would be.

But there wasn’t one.

However, let’s look at the positives. The play is set in 1960 in a house that is 80 years old and which has a reputation for creepy goings-on.

The stony-faced housekeeper, Mrs Dudley, who emphasises that she does not live in, but six miles away where she cannot hear cries for help, is played splendidly by Pat McInroy.

She ‘welcomes’ the first of three young guests for the week, Eleanor Vance, played by Hilary Tasker. Hilary’s character has a background of supernatural happenings, as does the next guest, Theodora, portrayed by Laura Adam.

The two are left in no doubt about Mrs Dudley’s views on the house, which adds to their sense of foreboding.

They are soon joined by the scientist who has organised the visit, Dr Montague, played by Brian Bruce; and the final guest, Luke Sanderson, played by Scott Wood. Luke’s presence is justified by the fact that he is likely to inherit the house from its absentee owner.

Dr Montague refuses to explain why he has gathered the three together, and this heightens the sense of anticipation.

Dr Montague’s wife arrives, a fanatic of the supernatural, gloriously OTT’d by Caroline Pennant Jones, whose portrayal had the audience eager to hear what she was going to say every time she appeared. In future, whenever I hear the word ‘planchette’ I shall think of her.

She was driven to the isolated Hill House by a friend of the family, Arthur Parker. Delightfully played by Jim Shaw, he is utterly obedient to Mrs Montague’s orders, and if she had instructed him to go and lie in his basket he probably would have done so. He is a headmaster, but one feels his school may not be at the cutting edge of educational excellence.

So there you have it! A veritable Curate’s Egg, in which many parts were indeed excellent.

Stage manager is Alan Johnston; lighting and sound is by Stephen Gilbert; the set is designed and built by Dave Ferguson, Ian Anderson, Jim Ratcliffe, Duncan Reid, Bob Johnston and Ginni; painters were Caroline Pennant Jones, Dorothy Parfitt, Jim Ratcliffe, Alan Christison, Pat McInroy and Marlene Kear; costumes are by Lex Sawley; prompters are Sheila Ratcliffe and Carole Bruce; publicity is by Anne Smith; catering is by theatre members, and front of house are Bob Sawley and members.

A delightful art exhibition in the upstairs coffee lounge is staged by the Carmyllie Group. It is well worth taking time to look at.

The Abbey Theatre’s next production is ‘Fairway to Heaven’, a farce by Diane Raffle, in which a hapless pair fake a burglary - in a house where a murder mystery evening is in progress! It will run from August 22 to September 3.