28 June 2011

Haunting Julia at the Riverside

Haunting Julia has been getting some good reviews, the Riverside Studios is an easy bus ride away and I had a free evening so I gave it a go. And it really is good.

My initial reluctance to see it was because it is by Alan Ayckbourn and while I've generally enjoyed the few plays of his that I have seen (most recently Taking Steps at the Orange Tree Theatre) they have been entertaining rather than gripping.

Haunting Julia promised something a little different, a scary ghost story with the Julia in the story having been dead for twelve years.

The play takes place in one room. The room where Julia killed herself as a student of music and a successful composer and which has now been turned in to a shrine to Julia as part of cultural centre built by her father, Joe (Christopher Timothy) in her memory.

The room is about to be opened to the public but before it is Joe invites Julia's former boyfriend, who found her body, to see the memorial. They are then joined by a psychic who had contacted Joe to say that he had something to tell him about Julia.

Julia may be there too as there are unexplained noises on a new tape that Joe believes are her.

Joe explains that he had brought them all there as he had unanswered questions about her apparent suicide, like was it really suicide and, if so, why had she done it.

As the three men talk about Julia we learn a lot more about her but also about each of them, all of which turns out to be important.

The psychic leads us in to some suspense filled moments and there is one really dramatic moment in the first half when everybody in the audience jumped a long way.

There's a short break but I presume that's just to allow the actors to rest and us to spend money as the second half starts exactly where the first finished off and the continues in the same mood.

I'll not spoil it by saying anything further about the plot.

You are always aware that this is an Ayckbourn play by the crisp humorous dialogue that trundles along nicely and hold the play together.

The characters grow on us too as we learn more about them. They are three very different people, with different views on Julia, and these differences spark tensions and keep the dialogue vibrant. All three actors played their part wonderfully and were instrumental in the success of the play.

The story of the play is a gradual reveal of Julia and her life and in the end all the questions are answered to bring the play to a satisfactory and warmly received ending.

Haunting Julia was a fantastic evening in every aspect and is another example of why the smaller London theatres are so vibrant and interesting at the moment.

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