Alan Ayckbourn's 1994 play Haunting Julia gets its first London outing at Riverside Studios on the wave of the recent trend for theatrical ghost stories; a play by one of the country's best-known dramatists evading the capital for so long doesn't bode well but while no classic it's not a disaster either. As a child, Julia was a musical prodigy, her compositions getting her early celebrity as "Little Miss Mozart." At university, aged 19, she took an overdose. 12 years later her father Joe (Christopher Timothy) has turned her old student digs and the surrounding houses into a centre for teaching music, but her attic room has been kept as it was when she died, complete with audio tour. Shortly before the centre is due to open Joe invites Julia's boyfriend at the time, Andy (Dominic Hecht) and psychic Ken (Richard O'Callaghan) to investigate the sound of a woman's laughter and tears that has mysteriously appeared on the tour tape, and why the shrine-like bedroom is colder than every other room in the house.
It's a rather odd play that never quite decides whether it wants to be a proper spooky ghost story or an exploration of grief and guilt. The three performances are all excellent although Andrew Hall's production could have done with being a bit snappier - Ayckbourn gives the characters numerous speeches that veer away from moving the story forward, and the pacing doesn't help disguise this. The few spooky moments, when they come, are nicely realised though with some good special effects near the end and a couple of moments that made the audience jump. I was disappointed in the ending though, the climax to Joe's story arc feeling unearned: His contribution to Julia's unhappiness was only ever discussed when Joe was offstage, so we're left to assume that he'd figured it out himself by the end.
Haunting Julia by Alan Ayckbourn is booking until the 3rd of July at Riverside Studio 2.