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Haunting Julia – Richmond Theatre, London

Writer: Alan Ayckbourn

Director: Andrew Hall

Reviewer: Ann Bawtree


“Haunting Julia” is, on the face of it, a ghost story. A widower is himself haunted by the thought that his talented daughter should have been so unhappy in her family life that she was driven to suicide while still in her teens. Having done all that was in his limited power for Julia in her earthly life he sets about building a shrine to her in the form of her room in her student digs. He has bought the house, altered and opened it to the public as a memorial to her talent. For Julia was a musical genius, perhaps a savant, haunted herself by the music that constantly filled her head.

One explanation was that Julia was actually murdered and Jo, her father sets about finding the truth. He consults Andy, one of Julia’s fellow students who might even have become his son-in-law and Ken, who is something of a psychic medium but who also turns out to have known Julia well in her student days. It is he who can throw most light on Julia’s final state of mind before her death.

The three characters, played by Duncan Preston, Joe McFadden and Richard O’Callaghan are clearly drawn and faithfully played. The conversations flow freely and naturally as they wander about her reproduced room and listen to a recording of Julia’s words, spoken by Louise Kempton. Strange things begin to happen in the room.

Jo has to face up to the fact that he did not do, indeed could not have done, everything for his daughter and Andy has to admit that his rejection of Julia could have contributed to her suicide. Tension mounts as the three sit in silence to meditate upon Julia and their relationships with her. The final explosion of action is the result, though quite how, or even whether, there is any kind of reconciliation is left hanging.

The final scene is a triumph of theatrical effects designed by John Brooking and brought about by the team of Matthew Eagland, Tom Hackley, James Ingram, Carl Richards and Steve Mulholland.

This production falls down because of a certain amount of inaudibility. Perhaps the rear stalls at the theatre are a dead spot but we could certainly have done with more projection. Maybe it has something to do with the players having been largely television actors. Perhaps their strong Yourkshire/Scottish accents, especially of Duncan Preston and Joe McFadden which do not pander to southern ears, rather marred the evening.

Runs until September 29th and then on tour in the UK until 4th December

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