Are you ready to be scared?

Lichfield Garrick's annual autumn Rep season has seen some memorable productions most recently Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with Matthew Kelly in 2008 and the following year The Entertainer, both directed by Andrew Hall and this year he is back directing, and co-producing, Sir Alan Ayckbourn's chilling ghost story, Haunting Julia which stars Christopher Timothy, Richard O'Callaghan and Dominic Hecht.
It is a play which has been little performed but one Hall has been keen to produce and Roger Clarke talks to him about why the ghost of Julia appeals so much.

HAUNTING Julia is a play which has been haunting the Lichfield Garrick for some time now, ever since it was first mooted as a production for the Rep's autumn season.

For various reasons the curtain never rose on Alan Ayckbourn's ghost story until now as first Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and  then The Entertainer took to the stage.

But Julia and her siren's call was always in the wings. 

The play is a simple ghost story. Julia was a musical prodigy, aged 19 with a glittering career ahead of her until she committed suicide 12 years ago.

Her father, Joe, has never managed to come to terms with what happened but hopes to find some answers in his dead daughter's bedroom which he has turned into a shrine.

He invites Andy, Julia's boyfriend and the last person to see her alive, to see it along with Ken, a psychic, or perhaps a charlatan, who believes she can be contacted and even that she will appear.

Director Andrew Hall, left, with actor Dominic Hecht rehearsing in the Studio

But this being Ayckbourn that is only part of the tale, the bare bones, the vehicle to explore thoughts and relationships. This is a thinking man's chiller. It might be scary, it might explore emotion and grief but it also has humour and gentle humanity.

In his programme notes for the 1999 production Ayckbourn wrote: “So, although the ghost of Julia still haunts the play, it is really about children, their parents and what they occasionally do to each other and to innocent bystanders - all in the name of love. Not much change there.”

The director, once again is Andrew Hall, his third season at the Rep. He said” “Haunting Julia is genuinely scary and it is well suited to The Studio because again it puts you in the room with them.

“It is Women in Black territory in that what makes it scary is the sound of a distant piano playing and footsteps. It is not like Ghost Story, the thing that started at Liverpool, where you are chucking a lot of special effects at it.

“It is down to what the the actors create on the stage and the most minor of sound effects and it is enough to make you jump out of your skin at certain points.

“What is crucial about it is the emotional content with this man who is unable to come to terms with his loss or his guilt or with the suicide. What Ayckbourn has done brilliantly is to assemble three people in the room all of whom carry guilty secrets and then lead us through this emotional turmoil. Early on we think we are in a whodunnit then move on to something which is supernatural as well as this whole area of deep grief of the father.


“It has been a fascinating process working on it because to me Ayckbourn as a writer, at his best, is similar territory to Albee; ordinary people living lives of quiet desperation. He is brilliant at writing real people with an awful lot happening underneath the lines rather than serving it up to us on a plate which lesser writers might do.”

The play was written in one act although an interval was included in its revival in 1999 - reputedly at the behest of the accountants with their cold eyes focussed on bar profits - but at The Garrick it will be in its original form as it was intended. A single act.

Hall wanted to do the play because he said: “It is an emotionally complex piece, structurally it is brilliantly done on a technical level. It tells us interesting truths about celebrity and parenthood and the kind of catastrophe left behind by suicide, with a group of people left asking themselves 'could I have prevented it'. It is also a piece ideally suited to the space. 

“I wanted to do it because of all those things and because I am a big fan of Ayckbourn. I have done several of his plays both as an actor and as a director and invariably I find he has that ability to write dialogue which always has much more going on below the surface than is immediately apparent which is exciting and fertile territory for directors and actors. I am a big fan.”


"Julia is now haunting me", writes Roger Clarke. "As soon as a read the synopsis I knew I had seen the play. I just could not put my finger on where or when. I could not remember even who was in it, just that I had seen it . . . somewhere at sometime.

"Looking into the background to the play though I found it appears to have only ever been staged in theatres I know I have never visited - at least not in this life.

"So it will be interesting when I finally see this performance whether it is an old acquaintance or a new friend."

Haunting Julia runs at the Lichfield Garrick Studio from October 14 to October 30

 The Play Christopher Timothy

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