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For some reason the supernatural’s been out of fashion in drama recently, most likely simply owing to a shortage of good plays in the genre. The Garrick Rep company and director Andrew Hall however have been clever enough to unearth this little gem from Alan Ayckbourn’s extensive back catalogue. The result is an intriguing mix of speculation, ambiguity and one final genuinely chilling moment during which I defy anyone not to feel their hair actually starting to lift.
Stage and small screen star Christopher Timothy (All Creatures Great and Small and just about everything else) is particularly effective in the unsympathetic part of bluff Yorkshireman Joe whose gifted daughter Julia died twelve years ago in a tragic suicide. Unable to let go, Joe has built a shrine to her based on the student room in which she died, now part of a complex dedicated to encouraging other young musicians.
Dominic Hecht charms as Julia’s one-time boyfriend the well-grounded Andy who was the last friend to see Julia alive. Decoyed by Joe to the spooky museum of Julia’s student room, kept pristine in her memory, both Andy and the audience begin to wonder just why Joe cannot move on, and whether the psychic phenomena he claims to hear are real or part of some worrying delusion.
The entrance of psychic Ken, (a marvellous performance by classical actor Richard O’Callaghan) encourages the view that Joe’s not the only one who’s cracked. But there’s a twist in the tale, and some very human emotions to be laid bare before the explosive end.
The play is both under- and over-written, wordy while only hinting at themes and ideas that stay undeveloped. These may be all the more potent through leaving scope for our imagination. All truly satisfying tales of the supernatural are illogical and unexplained, defy cold logic and sane reason. But still I’m left with the feeling that somehow Ayckbourn has censored his own creation back to cosiness, bowdlerising a plot which by encouraging speculation hints at the horrors of incest, abortion and Fred West, while remaining ephemeral.
Overall Haunting Julia keeps the audience guessing, has excellent performances and one true moment of genuine horror. The production runs until October 30th. I know the run is almost sold out but do try for tickets on 01543 412121 or go online at www.lichfieldgarrick.com.
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