“If you want ghosts, you find them” is the mantra for Danny Robins’ acclaimed West End drama 2:22 A Ghost Story. We do find them and they become the focus point of the supernatural thriller transpiring on the stage of the Noël Coward Theatre.
The set is excessively, intricately decorated and has us searching for the eerie and unexplainable from the moment we step into the auditorium. It depicts the partially refurbished living room of Jenny and Sam’s new home and looks strangely idyllic. It feels almost too normal when Jenny (Lily Allen) steps into the living room with a paintbrush in her hand and starts painting the doorframe. Her new-born Phoebe is snoozing away on the baby monitor – the device that will take centre stage for the rest of the spectacle. All seems to be well – until the penetratingly bright clock on the wall shows 2:22 in the morning.
At the same time each night, Jenny is hearing footsteps in her daughter’s nursery. She has resorted to hosting a dinner party with the intent of keeping her guests Lauren (Julia Chan) and Ben (Jake Wood) until that fateful hour and prove to her husband (Hadley Fraser) that she is not crazy. An exchange of opinions erupts, sides are taken, and relationships are put to the test. All the while, a creepy atmosphere lingers in the auditorium.
The scene changes are frustratingly the main trigger for it. Marked by terrorising screams and a blazing-red neon light shining from the stage, they inherit more shock value than the hair-raising events in the play. Never knowing when the next scene change is about to happen, 2:22 A Ghost Story has me on the edge of my seat following the actors’ every move with uninterrupted focus. Adding to the chilling atmosphere is the baby monitor, which was invented as a result of paranoia, and here it represents exactly that. The sensory interplay of lights and sounds (notably the screams of foxes in the night) make me jump not only once.
Although relying heavily on these external factors, 2:22 A Ghost Story has a divine ability to create suspense and tap into the traditional formula of ghost stories. Candles, Ouija boards and the good old crucifix reference those elements of horror that we are expect from the show. With conviction and an openness to the paranormal, director Matthew Dunster has his actors dance across the stage as the dinner party gets into full swing, the creepy events unfold and the ghost hunt starts. Each character takes a different stance on the topic of ghosts and the other-worldly, bringing a charming variety to the piece. However, Robins’s selection of two-dimensional background stories and a limiting embrace of stereotypes leaves us with a flat delivery from Allen and Wood. A shrill portrayal of a mother fearing for the safety of her child and a Cockney plumber serving as comic relief leave much to hope for.
However, as the pace picks up and the four actors find themselves spread out across the couch or kitchen counter engaged in fiery discussions about the existence or non-existence of ghosts, 2:22 A Ghost Story becomes a fast-paced and gripping tale. I watch every move on stage, with the red digits on the clock in the corner of my eye and never ever find myself at ease in this eerie West End drama.
2:22 A Ghost Story is playing at the Noël Coward Theatre until 16 October 2021. For more information and tickets visit 2:22 A Ghost Story’s website.