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Haunting Julia

Published by: Steve Burbridge on 28th Nov 2012 | View all blogs by Steve Burbridge



Haunting Julia – Darlington Civic Theatre

There is no disputing that Alan Ayckbourn is one of this country’s best contemporary playwrights. The trademark wit and masterful insight into the human condition sets him apart from his peers. However, with Haunting Julia, he seems to have ventured into a genre to which he is, clearly, not very suited – the supernatural thriller.

Chronicling the life – and subsequent suspected suicide – of Julia Lukin, a musical prodigy, from childhood to her demise at only nineteen, through three characters who all knew her to varying degrees, there should be plenty of opportunity to build tension and suspense. Unfortunately, Ayckbourn’s wordy and verbose monologues create something of a barrier which is reinforced by an implausible scenario and some clichéd characterisations.

The audience is introduced to Joe, the boorish, overbearing father who stifled Julia with his misguided parental pride; Andy, her former co-student and brief boyfriend, and Ken, a local psychic. The action takes place in the building which housed Julia’s cramped and dank attic flat, which has now been recreated into a visitor centre in her memory – complete with her room restored to the way it was during her student days.

It is established early on in the play that Julia shunned her father during her time away from home, despite the fact that her parents moved to within a few miles of her, and that he never visited her flat. That, in itself, makes it extremely questionable as to how Joe would have any kind of contact with Andy, as, in all likelihood, they probably never met. It is possible to pick other holes in the plot if one were inclined to do so.

What is more difficult to deduce is where to apportion the blame for the lack of credibility of the characters: is it the writing, the direction or the performances? Duncan Preston, as Joe, paces lethargically around the set – all hands like spades and feet like boats – as though imitating a giant sloth. Joe McFadden, as Andy, seems to offset Preston with his over-projection and exaggerated facial expressions (His eyebrows worked so hard as featured performers that they should have been allocated a dressing room of their own!), while Richard O’Callaghan, as Ken, adopted a ridiculously camp voice and eccentric manner.

The loud bangs, flickering lights and ringing alarms, which are supposed to elicit the jumps and squeals from the audience fall flat until the final scene, which is genuinely impressive. However, by that point, you are left with the feeling that it’s all too little, too late. Ultimately, Haunting Julia is a production which over-promises and under-delivers.

Steve Burbridge.


Haunting Julia runs until Saturday 1 December 2012.

To book telephone 01325 486 555 or visit


1 Comment

  • Cameron Lowe
    by Cameron Lowe 5 years ago
    Oof! Such a contrast with reviews of "The Woman In Black".
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