Lockdown review: Haunting Julia

The Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough have teamed up with their director Emeritus Alan Ayckbourn for a second audio play, this one, Haunting Julia, revived and recorded especially for Christmas.

Julia lived for her music but she’s been dead for twelve years, a probable suicide. The story around her is told by Andy (the boyfriend) and Joe (the father), and a mysterious and cheery psychic called Ken, all played by Ayckbourn.

This play dates from 1994 and it is a haunting, supernatural piece in which Julia, dead at nineteen, is present in every line. Ghosts, memories, and teenage suicide. A proud father, a lover with a secret, a faithful friend: each man sees this lost girl through their own prism. Ken can’t even get her name right, constantly referring to her as “Julie”: is he really telling the truth?

Joe, the father who could not understand how he and wife Dolly, an ordinary pair, produced this “little Miss Mozart”. His assertion that “suicide is not part of our family’s language” seems to be both delusion and an admission of guilt.

Portrait of Alan Ayckbourn by Tony Bartholomew
Portrait of Alan Ayckbourn by Tony Bartholomew

Fathers loom large in this play of twists and turns, of unreliable memories and strange perceptions. Wives, too, with both Dolly, the mother, and Kay, the boyfriend’s new squeeze, off-stage but clearly standing in the shadows. Prodigies, parents, and pianos loom large in the narrative.

As an audio drama, I found this occasionally hard-going and a little overwrought, and would have welcomed a music cue or two. It is hard to build tension without visuals and it is only truly achieved in Haunting Julia‘s final moments. You can however play a fine guessing game through the play’s 110 minute running time.

For me, the frankness of description in some scenes was disturbing and although well-produced, and directed by Ayckbourn, with his fine trio of performances and occasional pieces from Naomi Petersen when a female voice is required, Haunting Julia needs a bit more variety in what we hear.

Haunting Julia is available from 1 December, at ¬£12 a ticket. Book at the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s website.

LouReviews received complimentary access to review Haunting Julia.