Rita Simons and Joe McFadden Pic Helen Maybanks

The world premiere production of Peter James’ chilling play The House on Cold Hill, which is adapted from his best-selling 2015 novel based on his own real life experiences in a haunted house, is coming to the Opera House next year.

Starring in the production is BAFTA nominated actor and Strictly Come Dancing 2017 winner Joe McFadden as Ollie Harcourt alongside award winning actress Rita Simons, best known for playing Roxy Mitchell in EastEnders. 

Apart from playing feisty Roxy in the BBC1 soap, Rita has also appeared in Mile High, Dream Team and toured the UK as Paulette Bonafonte in the hit musical Legally Blonde.

She recently received rave reviews for her performance as Lisa Prescott in the film The Krays: Dead Man Walking and is appearing in I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here this year.

Tell us about the play

My character’s name is Caro. She’s a solicitor and is the definitely the most straightlaced character I’ve ever played. She is the quietly-in-control wife and mother, doting on her husband and daughter and more than anything she just really wants to make this house move work. Her husband Ollie, played by Joe McFadden, has just retired from advertising and is setting up a business from home. We buy this great big dream house of ours and we start finding out slowly from locals that it might be haunted and we don’t know if it’s just the locals who want us out or if it’s real. Slowly throughout the play through a lot of modern technology – Alexa, FaceTime etc – a lot of the hauntings start happening through these gadgets and that builds to a full-on haunting.

What attracted you to the role?

I read the script – I read a lot of scripts, it can get quite laborious – but this really wasn’t. I read it in one night. I couldn’t put it down. There really is a twist at the end that had me, Mrs Cynical, truly shocked. So, hopefully, if we can translate that onto the stage, there will be a lot of gasps from the audience.

The last time we saw you was in Legally Blonde. Do you prefer comedy or more serious roles?

This is my first properly serious, most neutral role that I’ve ever played. I do like doing gritty drama and comedy but this one is completely different. It’s not really either of those. It’s middle ground for me. It’s either been full on gangster, harsh accents or comedy. It’s quite a challenge actually to find that middle ground.

How have you been preparing?

I’m very good with accents and because Caro doesn’t really have an accent I’m trying to find people that don’t have accents. Apparently I’m cockney. I’m really trying to find a person at the moment I can mimic for the role that just doesn’t have an accent. I did a bit of Emily Blunt but she goes quite posh actually, so at the moment I’m just trying to nail the accent.

What’s your favourite scene in the production?

My favourite scene in the production is definitely the twist that happens at the end, so I can’t tell you. There’s one scene where our daughter is talking to her friend on FaceTime and her friend says, “Is that your Nan you’ve got with you?” and she responds saying her Nan isn’t here, so the friend says, “Well who’s that woman behind you then?” and it’s just really cool because you don’t really expect modern day technology to be involved in paranormal stories.

How have you been getting on with the other cast?

It’s a very small cast. The only member I have worked with before would be the lovely Charlie Clemence because he played Bradley on EastEnders while I was there. We worked together from 2007 up until his character died on the live episode so it must have been about four years I think. But I’m really looking forward to working with all of them really.

Do you prefer stage or screen?

Both. You can’t really compare them. I love TV and film – the subtleties that go with it. The camera picks up the smallest movements and gestures. And on stage, everything is so much bigger and you get a fresh reaction every night from a different audience. They are completely different things and I love them both equally to be fair.

What have been your career highlights?

I’ve been really lucky to be honest. 10 years on EastEnders was a huge highlight for me. I really wanted to do a Krays movie and I’ve done that. Legally Blonde I really enjoyed working on. Everything I’ve done so far has been brilliant for me. I don’t like just picking out one job because I’m so grateful for everything that I do and I’m sure this will be another one on the list. One thing on my bucket list that I’d really love to do is TV comedy.

Why should people buy a ticket?

There is a fabulous cast. All of the Peter James productions have been sell-out and they’re always really successful. If you’re a fan of his work you will absolutely love it. It’s going to be a real edge-of-your-seat page turner but on the stage.

The House on Cold Hill is at the Opera House from 13th–18th May 2019. Tickets are on sale now.

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