In the company of ghosts

Frighteners: Boyfriend Andy (Joe McFadden), left, Father Joe (Duncan Preston) and the clairvoyant Ken (Richard O'Callaghan)  Photo: Robert Day 

Haunting Julia

Wolverhampton Grand 

****

NOT all ghosts have to be dead. In Alan Ayckbourn's tale of the supernatural each of the three characters have their own ghosts, their own demons very much alive and hidden deep in their pasts.

Julia was a musical prodigy, Little Miss Mozart as she was dubbed, who was writing serious music at the age of six, was regarded as a genius and at 19 with everything to live for, committed suicide.

Her father, Joe, played beautifully by Duncan Preston, has never come to terms with her death. He cannot accept her suicide, or indeed anything about his daughter which is not perfect. It had to be someone else who had persuaded her to take a bottle of sleeping pills and mix it with booze.

As we hear about his relationship with his daughter – he had never been to her student flat until she died  and he and his wife had moved to be close to her when she went to university yet she never came to visit them – we realise all was not well even if that was one ghost he had yet  to recognise.

Julia had never wanted for anything - there was even an unplayed Steinway at Joe's home – but she never had the things she wanted.

Joe has turned her student flat into a shrine as part of an arts centre created in her name, his own project, as he looks for answers.

Then there is ex-boyfriend Andy, sensitively played by Joe McFadden, who  finds himself in the centre of an uncomfortable session in the freezing cold flat with amateur psychic Ken Chase, played by the superb Richard O'Callaghan.

Andy has his own ghost haunting him, the spectre of what really happened on that last day bfore he headed off to a party and drank himself into a stupor while psychic Ken, who claims no special powers, has  his own phantoms, secrets from the past that are looking for escape.

Andy, played by Joe McFadden, has a secret about Julia's death in the search for answers by her father Joe, played by Duncan Preston

All three have a love for Julia in their own way, all three secrets that help piece together why she decided to take her own life and when they come together all three have the power to release her.

As Ayckbourn said, this is not a ghost story, it is about the people left behind, three windows into her troubled life.

I first saw, and reviewed, this production in the Lichfield Garrick studio where with the audience virtually in Julia's flat, it was more atmospheric and perhaps more scary.

Moved to a main stage the fourth wall comes into play and the audience are less participants and more observers but there were still jumps when the spirit of Julia finally appears,  This production has evolved with a bigger set, designed by John Brooking, and more special effects but it is still essentially about what the human mind can create for itself.

This play was never really about things that go bump in the night though and Andrew Hall's direction gives us three very different characters united, even if they did not know it, by a quest for closure, for answers to what happened on the fateful day and why Julia died.

There are still laughs, this is Ayckbourn after all, particularly in the first half, and particularly from self-made commercial contract fencing supplier Joe who calls a spade a spade – the first half, incidentally, being a decision of accountants.

The play was originally written as one act without interval to keep the flow of suspense but theatre accountants had an attack of the vapours when it was realised there would be no interval drinks, sweets, ice creams, crisps or even programmes being sold so requested a break to help the balance sheets.

This is the first tour by Hall and Childs productions and is an excellent opener, Childs being co-producer Tracey Childs who was Lynne Howard in Howard's Way and will be back on our screens in the New Year in an ITV police drama.

A new production company to join the likes of Ian Dickens and Middle Ground in supplying regional theatres with quality productions is to be applauded and the quality iof this debut is apparent from a classy Ayckbourn script to three excellent actors at ease with their parts. To 20-10-12

Roger Clarke 

Prepare to be scared (feature)

Another bump in the night . . .

AUTHOR Alan Ayckbourn is well known for making people laugh, but in this thriller he proves he has the ability to send a shiver down your spine too.

It is set in the Julia Lukin Centre, built by the grieving father of a 19-year-old student in the attic home where she was found dead in a pool of blood. Was it really suicide?

 The musical prodigy was writing symphonies at the age of 8 and appeared to have everthing to live for, so father Joe, impressively played by Duncan Preston, meets up at the eerie shrine with former boyfriend Andy Rollinson (Joe McFadden) and psychic Ken Chase (Richard O'Callaghan) determined to find the answer.

The action builds slowly at first, with strange sounds, flickering lights and faint music, but the dramatic scene when a bricked up doorway opens up, the bed collapses with a huge bloodstain appearing on the sheets, and shelves collapsing, shocks the audience. To 20.10.12

Paul Marston 

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