Theatre review: Frost Hollow Hall

Our theatre reviewer, Hannah Hobson, shares her thoughts on Frost Hollow Hall at East Riding Theatre.

Designer – Brad Caleb Lee. Lighting Designer – Simon Bedwell. Photography – Gavin Prest Photography.

East Riding Theatre’s Christmas show this year is an adaptation of Emma Carrol’s book of the same name. It’s a patchwork of Victorian Gothic, light turn of the century comedy and a bit of Christmas magic. As we enter the theatre, the converted church is already a fantastic setting for this ghost story. Its vaulted arches form the perfect backdrop for Brad Caleb Lee’s set of net and wood. Already the mist and lace gives the space a sense of atmosphere, of mystery.

The thing that stands out most about this production is its cast, especially Jo Patmore as the play’s protagonist, Tilly. Patmore’s performance is energetic and layered. Her chemistry with Charlie Beck, as Will, lights up the stage whether the two be sparring or dancing together. Across the board, however, the cast are an incredible ensemble, balancing the comic and gothic well within a challenging script.

Especially at the titular Frost Hollow Hall, the scenes sizzle with life and the character dynamics are incredibly well managed. There are excellent comic turns across the supporting cast but special mention must be made to Clive Kneller as Mr Phelps and Hannah Levy as the Cook. The interplay between these two characters is a joy to watch. That is to say nothing for some fantastic dramatic performances, notably Annie Kirkman performing the part of housekeeper, Mrs Jessop, with pathos and just a dash of mystery.

Being unfamiliar with the play’s source material myself, it is difficult to comment on the quality of Adrian Rawlins’ adaptation. There are moments of the play that struggle with tonal dissonance. Whilst Frost Hollow Hall wants to be both a meditation on grief and a fun Christmas ghost story, it may have been more effective to focus on one. There is also a reliance on monologue which perhaps speaks to a desire to be overly faithful to the novel. That said, much of the character work is excellent and the comic scenes are vastly entertaining. The integration of music within the production is also stunning. You don’t often hear Christmas carols sung as well as this cast execute them in the staff choir of Frost Hollow Hall.

The slower moments of the script are greatly heightened by Marieke Audsley’s direction. A lot of attention was paid to the details in the staging and it has paid off. The piece uses the space well, is magical in its ghostly moments and manages the tension of the mystery to stunning effect. The design of the play is simple and well managed, as is the lighting and projection work from Simon Bedwell. I will say that occasionally the set from Brad Caleb Lee and Bedwell’s lighting are working in opposition rather than together but there are scenes where there is a real synergy there.

Ultimately, Frost Hollow Hall, is a great patchwork. Some stunning performances and a few truly fabulous pieces of theatre making. It’s a spooky and characterful approach to the family Christmas show, definitely worth catching at East Riding Theatre this Christmas. Even more so as the company are making special effort having reduced capacity performances, making this show far more accessible to those who need to be a bit more cautious in the aftermath of the pandemic.

[Hannah Hobson – Theatre reviewer]