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Haunting Julia, Theatre Royal Brighton, until December 8, call 0844 8717650
Alan Ayckbourn is a playwright who takes on challenges, whether the challenge lies in overcoming staging technicalities or the complexity of his subject matter. This play falls very much into the latter category.
Having been influenced by The Woman In Black, he has chosen to write both a mystery and a ghost story wrapped within generous helpings of comedy.
Set in the attic room where Julia, a young musical prodigy, died 12 years ago, the play revolves around her grieving father Joe. He still wants to know why she died, refusing to accept that it was suicide. Joe has invited Julia’s ex-boyfriend Andy and local psychic Kenneth to the room to seek some sort of resolution.
There is an overlong build-up to the ghostly events and dramatic climax. Whilst the comedy alleviates this to some degree, it could also be argued that the laughter interrupts the suspense.
Duncan Preston gives a solid performance as Joe, bewildered and refusing to let his daughter go. This is in contrast to Andy who has moved on and whose cynicism regarding Kenneth’s gift covers a sense of uneasiness.
Joe McFadden’s level-headed Andy is a perfect foil to Richard O’Callaghan’s earnest, slightly camp Kenneth – a male Madam Arcati but less outrageous.