Lewes Little Theatre presents a witty, gripping thriller about ghosts and grief

From left: Tony Bannister, John Harnett, Leona Davide and Jon Terry. Picture by Keith Gilbert
From left: Tony Bannister, John Harnett, Leona Davide and Jon Terry. Picture by Keith Gilbert

Lewes’s theatre celebrates its 80th birthday this year, and its 80th anniversary season opens a week tonight with a work by one of Britain’s greatest living playwrights.

More than 20 of Alan Ayckbourn’s plays have featured at Lewes Little Theatre over the years, and his Haunting Julia launches the new season that also includes the premiere of a new work, Psychic Connections, by his Lewes-based son Philip.

The theatre’s artistic director Tony Bannister said: “When we were planning for this milestone in the theatre’s history, we felt it important to turn to a playwright who has been an integral part of our past.

“On our 60th anniversary in 1999, we did back-to-back Ayckbourns. We’re doing the same again, but this time one Alan and one Philip, which is a first. And Alan and Philip came to the theatre earlier this year to help us announce our 80th anniversary season.”

Alan Ayckbourn is known for his playful social commentary and acerbic wit, but Haunting Julia is a slightly different play from many of his others.

It tells the story of Joe, who 12 years earlier lost his only child, Julia, to suicide at the age of 19. Joe is haunted by Julia’s death, feeling he is somehow responsible for it but also feels there are some unanswered questions. He meets up with her ex-boyfriend Andy, and is approached by the mysterious Ken who claims he’s a psychic.

“On one level the play is a thriller,” says Brighton-based director Juliet Hartnett, who is in charge of the play, “on another it’s a study of the effects of profound grief, and it’s also a ghost story. It has Ayckbourn’s great wit, while at the same time being an edge-of-your-seat cliffhanger.”

The roles are taken by Tony Bannister (Joe), John Hartnett (Ken) and Jon Terry (Andy), with Leona Davide as the voice of Julia.

Lewes Little Theatre was founded in 1939 by the vicar of Lewes, Kenneth Rawlings, with the help of a loan from the Sussex-based economist John Maynard Keynes.

The building was originally a chapel, indeed the chapel still exists as the main auditorium, with the scene dock, dressing rooms, wardrobe and foyer added on since.

The theatre’s 154 seats are divided between the stalls and the gallery, and some of them came from the Glyndebourne opera house that was demolished in 1993 to make way for the current opera house.

Haunting Julia runs for nine performances, starting on Friday, September 20, and ending on Saturday, September 28.

Evening shows start at 7.45pm and there will be two Saturday matinees at 2.45pm.

Tickets can be bought online from www.lewestheatre.org or from the theatre’s box office 01273 471826 (weekdays 10.30am-12pm and 7pm-7.30pm). They cost £12 but there are reduced price tickets for members and concessions.

Four things to do in Hastings. Click here to find out more.

Four things to do in Eastbourne. Click here to find out more.

Four things to do in East Sussex. Click here to find out more.

An interview with Tim Rice-Oxley from Keane. Click here to find out more.