Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch
Reviewed – 3rd November 2018
“a disappointing production, that neither scares nor moves, though Spencer’s performance is the saving grace”
The papers called her ‘Little Miss Mozart’ but twelve years after her death, where she was found having overdosed on sleeping pills at the age of nineteen, Julia’s father Joe, is still looking for answers. He has invited Julia’s last boyfriend, Andy, to the music centre that he has built around Julia’s bedroom, an unaltered shrine to her genius. Joining them is Ken Chase, a local psychic, so he says, though his connection to Julia’s life goes far deeper. It is both a ghost story and a psychological narrative of grief and loss. The weight of creative genius on a person, particularly from such a young age, is interestingly explored and commented upon.
However Haunting Julia isn’t one of Alan Ayckbourn’s best plays and, in this case, it isn’t helped by the overall production. Originally intended by its writer as a ninety minute piece, in longer form it is now a slow journey, repetitive and unengaging. It plods along, pedestrian-like, until the melodramatic ending which elicits more laughter than fear from the audience tonight.
Matthew Spencer delivers a strong and nuanced performance as Andy Rollinson, Julia’s boyfriend at the time, beginning the play as a sceptical non-believer, and ending the play shaken and moved. However he is flanked by two disappointing performances from Sam Cox and Clive Llewellyn. Cox is unconvincing, acting out towards the audience rather than towards his fellow actors, and the emotional complexity of this stifling, grieving father figure is not accessed by his performance. Both Cox and Llewellyn also struggle to deliver the notes of humour that pepper the script and are characteristic of Ayckbourn’s writing, causing the play to drag and stagnate over and over.
The set, designed by Jess Curtis, is functional and competently done, but it isn’t anything awe-inspiring, and the spacing of it contributes to the frequently bizarre staging of the actors by director Lucy Pitman-Wallace, which often makes the interactions between the characters feel unnatural and performative.
This is a disappointing production, that neither scares nor moves, though Spencer’s performance is the saving grace.
Reviewed by Amelia Brown
Photography by Mark Sepple
Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch until 17th November
Previously reviewed at this venue: