Writer: Alan Ayckbourn
Director: Lucy Pitman-Wallace
Reviewer: Liz Stagg
A musical genius, Julia had been likened to Mozart from a young age. However, her life came to an end at the age of 19 due to an apparent suicide. Joe has never come to terms with his daughter’s death and has never accepted suicide as the reason Julia is no longer with him. Now 12 years later, Joe has created a shrine-like museum and education centre in his daughter’s memory, and over the course of one evening, he intends to find out the truth about Julia’s death. From acclaimed playwright Alan Ayckbourn, Haunting Julia seeks to be a tense study in family and human interaction.
Haunting Julia is presented as a ghost story and indeed was originally produced in the shadow of the highly successful stage adaptation of The Woman In Black by Susan Hill. It retains some of Ayckbourn’s trademark humour and attempts to make the audience both laugh and scream. Unfortunately, it falls far short of achieving either of these aims. Haunting Julia is neither all-out funny, nor is it frightening and feels ultimately like a more traditional Ackbourne piece that has been forced into genres that it is not comfortable with.
Director Lucy Pitman-Wallace has been successful in creating an ever-present sense of Julia, when she is never seen and is possibly never there. The stage design and lighting is also very effective in providing a claustrophobic set for the players to tell their story. It should be a progression of ever tenser reveals to Julia’s plight, and in that regard, the set would have worked well, if only the substance of the play was there. This is not entirely the fault of this particular production, as in Ayckbourn’s writing there are far too many inconsistencies and elements of action that are just unbelievable as human behaviour.
Matthew Spencer plays Andy Rollinson, Julia’s partner in the final year of her life, and provides little to the role that could not be done by so many other actors. Clive Llewellyn as well-meaning psychic Ken Chase, gives interest and does an adequate job in the part. Sam Cox however as Julia’s devoted and overbearing father Joe Lukin, is to be applauded. Cox is Haunting Julia’s greatest redeeming feature, and if it were not for his presence in the production, a much lower rating would be awarded. Cox is very believable as a father in torment. Obsessively devoted to his daughter’s memory and the events of the night she took her life. Cox provides leadership on the stage and is single-handed in providing the story’s progression, which although is testament to his ability, does not make for a successful production.
Haunting Julia is a confused production that is unsuccessful in what it tries to be and uncomfortable in what it should be. Aside from the admirable performance of Sam Cox, there is little to enjoy here. This in itself is incredibly frustrating as the potential for more is present. The slow burn tense build-up, the claustrophobia and the reveals of human nature and the looming shadow of Julia and her death are all present to a degree but should have been so much more.
Runs until 17 November 2018 | Image: Mark Sepple