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Without a doubt Haunting Julia by Alan Ayckbourn is not for the faint hearted. Yes there are times when the tracks of the ghost train seem a little obvious, leading us on to another scary skeleton but in this production it's the solid work by three highly competent performers that is the plays true spirit.
This production returns to the Lichfield Garrick after its successful airing in the Autumn of 2010 before transferring on May 25th to the Riverside Studios, London. It is its ability to sway you from a state of the relaxed eavesdropper to actually checking exactly where the theatre doors are, to make a nervous exit, which is central to its success.
At times the various references to the main characters, never seen respective families, feels too long and at times irrelevant. However it is their recall of these respective relationships that serves to identify each of their innate characters.
The play centres on the recollection of an event that has haunted them all individually for 12 years, the mystery suicide of a gifted musician Julia Lukin. Set in her former bedroom, now a visitor centre, the three men pace out the story.
There is the father played by Christopher Timothy who for her short life has lived vicariously through his daughters' musical prodigy. Timothy captures beautifully a steely faced yet still grieving man, unable to emotionally face his loss, and now hoping to find the answers to questions of his fractured relationship with Julia through the occult.
This is offset by the sceptical balance of the onetime boyfriend of Julia, Andy. Dominic Hecht produces a detailed portrait here, effortlessly tip-toeing uneasily between Andy's doubt and belief in himself and the spirit world.
Finally, Richard O'Callaghan arrives, stirring the pot with his own brand of spongy well meaning deceit, poor convictions and dusty secrets. O'Callaghan is both slimy and comforting in equal measures and captures the role of the oddball Physic medium convincingly well.
Haunting Julia was originally written by Ayckbourn as a one act play and to deliver this slice of brooding awkward intensity at this level, takes an experienced production team.
Andrew Hall's directorship is subtle but effective in allowing space for the slow reveal of the web of relationships. The staging is a compact revelation with a variety of spooky effects punctuating the ebb and flow of the action.
Still In the end it is the seasoned performances of Timothy, O'Callaghan and Hecht who summon the spirit of Julia right into the room and your imagination, far better than any of the jumpy theatrical bangs and whooshes. And there a few of those, you have been warned.
Jeff Grant - Behindthearras.com
Playwright Alan Ayckbourn literally sends shivers down the spine with this classic ghost story.
The Garrick Rep company production, which stars esteemed stage and TV actor Christopher Timothy, is enjoying a return run at the Lichfield theatre before deservedly transferring to the capital for its London premier. Timothy takes on the role of grieving dad Joe Lukin, sill unable to come to terms with the suicide of his musical prodigy daughter Julia 12 years earlier at the age of 19.
Convinced there are still answers to be found, he opens a shrine to Julia in the form of a music centre.
But when eerie sounds start to be heard, Joe enlists the help of a psychic, with truly shocking results.
Timothy is superb in the lead role, but he is well-matched by Dominic Hecht as Julia's former boyfriend Andy and Richard O'Callaghan as the psychic, Ken.
The screams from one or two members of the audience in the second half suggest this is not for the fainthearted, but don't let that put you off.
Performances continue until Saturday 14 May.
Tony Collins - Birmingham Mail
Haunting Julia - last year's sell-out Garrick Rep production - is back owing to popular demand. Next stop's a London transfer to the prestigious Riverside Studios so lucky Lichfield currently has the chance to take another peek at this outstanding show before it's viewed by theatre-goers in the capital.
I went along to see how the show's fared since last year. It was good then, but my initial reaction this time was that the show has improved in a dozen different ways.
Actor/director Andrew Hall (last seen in Corrie as Audrey's new boyfriend "Marcia") is a sly old thing who knows above a bit about presentation. He's tightened and sharpened the production all round sorting out some slightly confusing ambiguities. Now with the help of some subtle and impressive sound and lighting effects he has the audience on the edge of their seats throughout with nervous laughter and genuine shock at this spooky tale.
The actors too have had longer to get into their complex roles with the result that they're now working together in that almost subliminal way which comes with practice.
Christopher Timothy has fleshed out his role as the domineering father to achieve genuine pathos in his bewildered reaction to his daughter's death.
Richard O'Callaghan as Ken has a slightly creepy unctuousness which I found increasingly unnerving as the evening unwound.
But it is Dominic Hecht's performance as the young Andy which provides the essential link between the characters. To his slightly touchy responses to the evening's strange events he has now added an immense likeability which forms the perfect bridge between the audience and the action of the play. As a result Ayckbourn's mystery becomes ever more involving as befits the complex psychological drama it actually is.
Catch this unusually good production while you can.
Phil Preece - thelichfieldblog.co.uk
People love to be scared! And that is guaranteed by Alan Ayckbourn's chilling play which has returned to the Garrick "by popular demand".
It was there last October, and audiences are again flocking to the theatre to enjoy - or endure - being frightened by the story of musical prodigy Julia Lukin who never actually appears on stage.....or does she?
The 19-year-old student apparently took her own life in her cramped accommodation, but 12 years later her aggressive father, who has turned the room into a shrine, is determined to find the answer to why it happened.
He may be haunted by fear of some personal responsibility for the tragic death of 'Little Miss Mozart', so he invites former boyfriend Andy - the last person to see her alive - to the the premises along with a rather dodgy psychic, in the hope that the mystery can be resolved.
Once again the Garrick Rep Company have delivered a cracker which has the audience almost jumping out of their seats with shock on a couple of occasions, so good are the lighting and sound effects.
Christopher Timothy gives a magnificent performance as Joe, the troubled father with the ghostly voice of Julia on tape, and Dominic Hecht, playing the ex boyfriend, skilfully has you wondering if he might have played some part in the death of the teenager.
Richard O'Callaghan completes a great cast in the role of Ken the psychic and full marks to set designer John Brooking.
Directed by Andrew Hall, Haunting Julia has 13 performances at the Garrick before transferring to London's Riverside Studios.
Paul Marston - behindthearras.com