Ghostly goings on set to make the audience leap with shock
HAUNTING Julia, Alan Ayckbourn's tense psychological thriller, is keeping audiences on the edges of their seats, according to cast members Duncan Preston and Joe McFadden.
Duncan plays the bereaved father of the central character, Julia Lukin, and says that touring play is so tense that he comes off the stage drained and exhausted after every performance.
"There is some humour in the play, it is not all bleak, but the humour is quite black and it is a very intense drama," he says.
"Joe Lukin finds himself continually haunted by his daughter's death and remains unable to come to terms with the grief and guilt which surrounds it.
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"As a result he decides to get to the bottom of what happened and why. It is a very tense drama which unfolds in real time through the course of the play.
"The tension between the three main characters builds and builds, drawing the audience into the suspense. They are usually gripped throughout."
There is however, also a supernatural dimension created by Julia's ghost and Duncan says some parts of the drama have caused members of the audience to jump and scream in surprise.
The narrative of this captivating drama revolves around the sudden death of Julia – a musical prodigy, referred to in the past as Little Miss Mozart.
At eight years old she was writing symphonies. By the age of 19 the world was at her feet – until her body was found lying in a pool of blood.
The play opens 12 years after her death but Joe, her father, has never stopped asking why. Did she really take her own life? Or was someone else with her on that fateful night? Strange sounds and signs have begun to haunt the shrine Joe has built to his lost daughter around the room she died in.
On the night of the play, he is determined to get the answers he wants and tricks the two other men in Julia's life into meeting with him to scrutinise what happened.
The audience becomes a witness to their meeting and the unexplainable events that occur during the course of it.
"Essentially the play is an exploration of guilt," says Joe McFadden, who plays the role of Andy – generally considered to be Julia's student boyfriend, although unrequited admirer would be a more accurate description.
The character finds himself under scrutiny from Julia's father along with a third character, Ken Chase, played by Richard O'Callaghan.
Ken is a gentle, unassuming man who offers his services as a psychic to Joe but it gradually emerges that he had more intimate ties to Julia in the past.
"This play is a thriller but there is also a real mystery to it as well," says Joe.
"All three men have a deep connection with Julia and throughout their meeting the audience is invited in to try to work out where the responsibility for her suicide lies – if indeed it was suicide.
"It is not clear-cut and sympathies for the characters will keep shifting and changing."
The thriller genre is a real departure for Joe, who is better known for his roles in the TV series Casualty and Take the High Road.
Joe says that live theatre is a lot more vocally demanding than TV because of the need to project his voice to get heard better but he says that he is loving the experience.
"I am enjoying touring and seeing more of Britain," he says. "Mainly, though, I'm really relishing acting in an Ayckbourn play.
"He is so distinctive as a writer, very layered, and this play really captures the audience's attention. You can hear a pin drop, which is a testament to the writing – it really draws them into the drama and the intrigue.
"The key to all the characters is that all their lives, to some degree or another have been on hold since Julia took her life – all of them have felt the loss," he says.
Ayckbourn's script was also praised by Duncan, who is well-known for a wide range of acting roles, from Shakespeare and serious drama to regular comedy slots on the Victoria Wood show during the 1980s.
"Ayckbourn is a clever constructor of plays," he says.
"It has been difficult to learn the script because the characters talk in little phrases all the time.
"Ayckbourn is a keen observer of life and his characters give the drama a sense of realism but hard to learn."
Although Duncan has no children of his own, he found it easy to inhabit the role and imagine the dreadfulness of having a child kill themselves and the many unanswered questions it throws up.
"It is this intensity of emotion, grief, guilt and loss which makes it so gripping."
WHAT: Haunting Julia
WHERE: Derby Theatre
WHEN: October 22-27, 7.30pm with Saturday matinee at 2.30pm
BOX OFFICE: Call Derby Theatre box office on 01332 5939 39 or visit www.derbylive.co.uk