Review – Haunting Julia

October 10, 2012 | By More

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Joe McFadden (Andy), Duncan Preston (Joe), Richard O'Callaghan (Ken)  Haunting Julia by Alan Ayckbourn, Directed by Andrew Hall  Photo: Robert Day

Joe McFadden (Andy), Duncan Preston (Joe), Richard O’Callaghan (Ken) in Haunting Julia. Photo: Robert Day

King’s Theatre
Review by Thom Dibdin

There’s plenty of bluster and gloss to this touring production of Alan Ayckbourn’s clever little ghost story, which is a the King’s theatre all week.

It’s set in the tiny student digs of child prodigy Julia Lukin – dubbed Little Miss Mozart in the popular press. The same cold room in which she composed 30 of her 100 famous works and where she died of a drink and drugs overdose in 1992, aged only 19, in her second year of university.

Now, a dozen years on, her father has bought up the house, together with its neighbours, and converted them into the Julia Lukin Studios, a resource for young musicians. Only Julia’s tiny attic room remains as it used to be, preserved as a shrine for her fans and her father – complete with cuddly teddy-bear laid out on her pristine bed.

John Brooking’s set opens the room up nicely. On one side of the stage is the viewing space separated from the room itself by museum ropes, running along the where the partition wall into the next-door house used to be. The latest interactive audio provides tour to the room with, macabrely, her voice impersonated by an actress.

This is everything an early nineties bedsit of a late teenage student should be. There’s the Lloyd Loom bedside dresser, the Athena posters of Cauty’s Lord of the Rings and Waterehouse’s Lady of Shalott and, over there, the cluttered table where she studied. Or, in Julia’s case, where she wrote out her music in pencil.

Ayckbourn is equally as punctilious in laying out the detail of Julia’s life and demise, as her recently widowed father Joe (Duncan Preston), shows Andy (Joe McFadden) round the little museum.

The mysterious appearance of spectral voices of manic laughter and sobbing…

All can not be quite as it seems, of course, and not just because Andy was Julia’s boyfriend at the time she died. Something has been interfering with the tapes causing the mysterious appearance of spectral voices of manic laughter and sobbing. Joe has also invited the psychically susceptible, not-quite-medium, Ken Chase (Richard O’Callaghan), round to see if he can detect any otherworldly goings on.

Preston, McFadden and O’Callaghan all put in reasonably rounded performances, easily creating their relationships with each other. The distaste between reactionary old duffer Joe and slightly embarrassed Andy; Joe’s needy attitude towards Mr Chase and Andy’s cynicism; and Mr Chase’s nicely ambiguous relationship to either all ring quietly true.

Slip behind these facades, however, and there is little of substance to be found.

Director Andrew Hall only lets his actors go so far before he reigns them back. Once the verbal sparing is over, anything physical feels contrived – as does, crucially, any relationship to Julia herself. There are more than hints at complexity, but when the layers are revealed each is as shallow as the next.

And just as the broad strokes of Brooking’s design speak more of the cliche of student life rather than the particularities of a personality, so there is a sense of the mechanical to Ayckbourn’s construction of the story.

There are frights to be had and plenty of revelations, but it never wraps you up in itself tight enough for it not to feel contrived. It’s a pleasant evening out, and fans of the three actors involved will no doubt enjoy watching them cruise through their lines, but the overall impression is of a production which rather less good than it is okay.

Run ends Saturday
Daily, 7.30pm (2.30pm matinee Wed, Sat).
King’s website: www.edtheatres.com
Haunting Julia tour website: www.hauntingjulia.com

Haunting Julia on tour:
Oct 9 to Oct 13 EDINBURGH
KING’S THEATRE
www.edtheatres.com
Oct 15 to Oct 20 WOLVERHAMPTON
GRAND THEATRE
www.grandtheatre.co.uk
Oct 22 to Oct 27 DERBY THEATRE www.derbytheatre.co.uk
Oct 29 to Nov 3 MALVERN
FESTIVAL THEATRE
www.malvern-theatres.co.uk
Nov 5 to Nov 10 NORWICH
THEATRE ROYAL
www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk
Nov 12 to Nov 17 SOUTHEND
PALACE THEATRE
www.palacetheatresouthend.co.uk
Nov 19 to Nov 24 WINDSOR
THEATRE ROYAL
www.purchase.tickets.com
Nov 27 to Dec 1 DARLINGTON
CIVIC THEATRE
www.darlingtonarts.co.uk
Dec 4 to Dec 8 BRIGHTON
THEATRE ROYAL
www.atgtickets.com/brighton

ENDS

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