Be prepared to be scared

Haunting Julia

Lichfield Garrick Studio


JULIA does her job splendidly sending a chill around the audience in Alan Ayckbourn's celebrated ghost story which relies as much on imagination as the minimal special effects to make hairs rise on necks.

Tragic teenager Julia was a child prodigy, Little Miss Mozart as the red tops dubbed her, until she committed suicide at the age of 19.

Christopher Timothy as Joe shows his dead daughter's former boyfriend  Andy, played by Dominic Hecht, around the shrine he has built to her memory

Her overbearing father Joe (Christopher Timothy), has turned her old student digs into the Julia Lukin Music Centre, an uncomfortable mix of museum and arts centre with her bedroom the centre point of what has become a shrine. 

Joe had never believed his daughter could have killed herself, to him there had to be another explanation. So one Sunday afternoon he takes Julia's ex-boyfriend Andy, (Dominic Hecht), to visit the centre and then introduces what he hopes will be the key to the truth, psychic mortuary attendant Ken (Richard O'Callaghan).

To Joe this is a chance to find out what really happened, to let Julia explain it to them through Ken, until that is Ken proves to be a phoney, or then again maybe he's not.

As the afternoon drifts on each character reveals a different relationship with a different Julia and secrets about both her life and ultimately her death. 

Timothy makes his Joe overpowering and unreasonable, shouting down and prodding his finger at any argument or dissension, yet here is a man, self-made and proud of it, who can change emotions at the drop of a sentence. He is not the sort of bloke you can really like or take to but you can find some sympathy for a man who cannot come to terms with the death of a daughter.

Hecht's music teacher ex-boyfriend is hardly the loving son-in-law that was denied Joe by Julia's death.

The pair have a common link with the past but are hardly bosom buddies. Andy is aloof and distant and doesn't really want to know what happened, perhaps because the only real secret is the one he has been keeping and would prefer not to be revealed. He just wants to get back to his wife Kay and two kids.

Psychic Ken, played convincingly by Richard O'Callaghan, can feel Julia's presence through her teddy bear . . . or can he

Then there is Ken and his psychic powers, not a medium, a psychic he tells us. There is a difference. Ken is full of homespun advice from his father and nuggets of what might even pass for wisdom in some parts. While Joe wears his success despite his lack of education as a badge of honour Ken accepts he is not as sophisticated or educated as other people, even admitting Julia's classical pieces that marked her out as a genius were not his family's sort of music. 

Three very different characters tied together by a common thread exploring the web which surrounds them.

In the intimacy of The Studio the audience is also part of that web, sitting with Joe, Andy and Ken in Julia's bedroom so that when they finally learn the truth you are in there for the white knuckle ride with them.

Hitchcock's Psycho proved you needed very little to scare people witless, just a suggestive script, some believable acting, a bit of atmosphere and an audience with imagination and Haunting Julia uses those same simple ground rules to considerable effect.  A bright light, a bit of breeze, a drop of blood and rely on the mind to fill in the gaps. Which it does quite scarily, thank you.

Not that it is all screams and ghosts mind. For those used to Ayckbourn's comedies set in the middle class marriages of the suburbs this all might come as a bit of a shock, but then again, remember, that is what it is meant to do, not much use having a ghost story that has them rolling in the aisles but he has not deserted  comedy entirely.

Among the psychological delvings are some very funny lines.

The Lichfield Garrick Rep is getting quite a reputation for its productions and this is the third directed by Andrew Hall, who is co-producing this one with his own company Solomon Point. 

He was also responsible for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  and The Entertainer.

Hall manages to keep things simple for the audience to follow helped by a superb, strong cast who provide sharply contrasting characters who all have a different view of the same event. The excellent set is by John Brooking while Liz Porrett was responsible for the effective lighting. Julia will be scaring until 30-10-10.

Roger Clarke 

FEATURES: The play Andrew Hall Christopher Timothy


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