HE is the Holby City favourite whose twinkle toes matched his twinkling smile as he romped to victory in Strictly Come Dancing in 2017. She is the award-winning EastEnders actress who proved she was up for every challenge the jungle could throw at her when she took part in I’m A Celebrity.

Now Joe McFadden and Rita Simons are teaming up in a world premiere of The House on Cold Hill, a stage adaptation of the Peter James novel which comes to Manchester Opera House on Monday.

In this supernatural thriller, they play a couple who move into the house of their dreams that has been empty for 40 years, only to find they are not alone.

“You can scare the living daylights out of an audience in the theatre, you really can,” said Joe. “And that’s what we are going for.”

But The House on Cold Hill is no traditional haunted house tale. It’s a very modern story which will make you question the role technology plays in our lives.

It is the fourth Peter James novel to be adapted for the stage.

“He’s a very talented writer and has a massive fan base who are clamouring to see his stuff so it really is a no brainer,” said Joe. “The script is really interesting and has some good stuff to get your teeth into as an actor.”

Bringing a best seller to life can cause problems as fans of the book have their own preconceptions of the characters.

“You want to give the fans a flavour of what was in the book,” said Joe, “but it’s not a book. It has to work on stage and you have to have some artistic licence. It has to work as a theatre piece. For the stage version we have had to leave out stuff that’s in the book because it’s not that relevant

“You can also change things. For instance the daughter is 12 in the book but she’s an older teenager (played by Hollyoaks Persephone Swales-Dawson) in the play. It makes it more interesting as she’s always on her phone or snapchatting which fits in with the supernatural element - this is a very modern ghost story.”

For Rita - who played Roxy Mitchell in Eastenders - her character Caro is perhaps the most ‘normal’ character she has played.

“I’m in my comfort zone doing comedy, gangster gritty or any of the extremes,” she said. “I thought I would step out of my comfort zone and do this. You’ve got to try everything.

“Character-wise I think it’s the most normal character I’ve ever played which is an interesting challenge for me.”

To some people normal can equal boring but Rita said: “It’s your job as an actor to avoid that. It’s easier to play the far-fetched characters or the super gritty characters so it’s quite a challenge to find that middle ground and stay there.”

Rita admits that she hadn’t read one of Peter James books but that as soon as she received the script she was hooked.

“I started to read it and couldn’t put it down,” she said. “I’ve had all sorts of script in my hand and it can be a bit laborious to get through them. But I read this play in one night. I couldn’t put it down.

“I’m a natural cynic but I did gasp at the end. I’m not easily scared but this one certainly shocked me.”

Both Joe and Rita are revelling in being part of a new production.

“The nice thing about doing a new work is that it’s all up for grabs,” said Joe. “Hopefully you get to mould your character and have some input which is interesting as an actor.

“I have done shows where I’ve gone in and they just want you to do show the way the guy before you did it.”

Rita added: “It’s quite an organic thing when it’s a new role as you can just see what happens in the rehearsal process. It’s why we do what we do at the end of the day.”

After leaving EastEnders, Rita toured in the musical Legally Blonde.

“This is a far cry from Legally Blonde, that’s for sure,” she said. “I’ve never scared an audience on purpose before, maybe by accident! But it’s certainly a novel thing for me to do to try and get an audience to scream.”

At the end of the tour, Joe will be going on to star in a tour of Priscilla Queen of the Desert which will make Jason Donovan’s directorial debut where he may once again get the chance to show his dance moves.

“I’ve got to be honest, since finishing Strictly I haven’t really keep up the dancing,” he said. “Unless I have a partner teaching me nine hours a day it’s not really part of my life.

“But I loved every minute of being on Strictly. I didn’t really want the experience to be over I was having such a nice time.

“I now watch the show differently because you know how much has gone into getting to that stage every week.”

The House on Cold Hill, Manchester Opera House, until Saturday, May 18. Details from 0844 871 3018 or www.atgtickets.com