"grief, guilt and a ghost"
by Michael Gray for remotegoat on 04/11/18

The supernatural is something of a sideline for Alan Ayckbourn, noted chiefly for his comedies of suburban manners.
Forensic examination reveals his fingerprints on this piece – the character Joe shares some unpleasant traits with Uncle Harvey in Season’s Greetings – but few of us would identify the playwright in a blind staging.
The story is a chilling study of grief and guilt, played out in real time in a simulacrum of Julia’s student bedsit, preserved in her memory. It’s twelve years since she took her life in this very room. Joe, her widowed father, still cannot come to terms with her death, seeking explanations and closure. Invited to join him in the “Julia Lukin Music Centre” are Andy, her sometime boyfriend, and Ken, a mortuary attendant and self-styled psychic. The three men are counterbalanced by three unseen women: Joe’s late wife Dolly, Andy’s wife Kay, and Julia herself, musical prodigy, pianist and composer of three quartets, an unfinished symphony and, reflecting her Yorkshire roots, the Ridings Suite.
The three actors bring out the complexities of their characters, as more and more is revealed of their close ties to Julia. Sam Cox is Joe: clearly damaged by the loss of his talented daughter, and now his wife, he is a a bluff, assertive presence, afraid of seeming “over-sentimental”. Andy [convincingly done in a minor key by Matthew Spencer] only reveals the truth of his relationship with his fellow student late in the piece. Reluctant at first, he gives a moving account of their last encounter and its tragic aftermath. Clive Llewellyn’s Ken, too, gradually confesses his role in Julia’s life in the student house, as his character changes from charlatan to confidant.
Jess Curtis’s design captures the bizarre shrine/museum/bedsit in a letter-box stage, with a huge photograph of Little Miss Mozart – aged around six, I’d guess – dominating the corridor outside the room.
The drama does not entirely avoid cliché – the chill in the room, the lights dipping, the ominous footsteps – and it sometimes seems wordy and static.
Haunting Julia never had a West End run, though it remains popular with community groups and did enjoy a national tour a few years ago. But, even with its devastating dénouement, this solid revival, directed by Lucy Pitman-Wallace, does little to persuade us that this is an unjustly neglected masterpiece from the nation’s favourite living playwright.

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