Review by Daz Gale
The unstoppable 2.22 - A Ghost Story is continuing its tour of the West End, now playing its fourth venue as it moves into its new home of the Lyric Theatre. With a new theatre comes a new cast and this particular one has garnered a lot of attention thanks to the announcement it will feature the West End debut of singer Cheryl.
I'm always one to give everyone the benefit of the doubt as some star casting has the power to surprise you (and I even ate humble pie when it came to another shows casting choices) After all, this girl’s allowed to try something new in her career. The question is was casting her in The Show worth it or would her performance be weak, limp and lifeless?*
*L'Oréal advert reference. It doesn't matter to me that only about 2 people will understand that. I refuse to apologise for the Cheryl puns that litter this review. Am I Sorry? No No No!
2.22 – A Ghost Story tells the story of Jenny who believes the new home she has moved into with husband Sam is haunted much to his disbelief After something strange has happened at 2.22am every night for the past few night, she invites her dinner guests Lauren and Ben to stay up until 2.22 to experience it themselves. What follows is the events of one long night where attitudes and beliefs are challenged and stories from the past are shared. This is a night that will change everything and by the time 2.22am comes around, nothing will ever be the same again. However, to reveal exactly why would be a massive spoiler and you’ll get none of that from me!
Effectively telling a ghost story on stage is a challenge in itself. As well as trying to tell the story at hand, you have to attempt to make the audiences blood run cold, like all the very best ghost stories do – so it is a testament to Danny Robins’ writing how effective this story is. From the natural dialogue between the four main characters verging on humorous to pretty tense, the writing allows the story to be told in a way that allows true escapism, so that every piercing scream that splits the scenes brings you right back to the present no matter how much you thought you were prepared for it.
This isn’t the first time I had seen 2.22 and it really is a show that lends itself well to repeat viewings. Once you know the way the story ends, a lot of smaller moments earlier on make a lot more sense. Under the pretence of a normal dinner party, everyday conversation and seemingly throwaway lines and unimportant moments have a huge payoff later on. The multi-layered writing is the strongest element of this play and is a big reason of why it has been captivating audiences as it moves from home to home.
Equally as strong as Danny’s writing is Matthew Dunsters direction, which stunningly brings the story to life, making full use of Anna Fleischle’s strikingly realised set which meticulously recreates Jenny and Sam’s new home in its transitionary stage from old to modern. Full of multiple rooms and props that prove integral to the story, this is a show that looks every bit as gripping as the story itself. Lucy Carters lighting and Ian Dickinsons sound provide a constantly atmospheric setting, laying down the foundations as the story unfolds in an ominous manner.
Each new home for 2.22 has seen a new cast with Lily Allen and Laura Whitmore previously playing the role of Jenny. This time it goes to Cheryl – while she may be making her stage debut here, she has a whole lotta history with the supernatural at least (Ghosthunting with Girls Aloud anybody?). While eyebrows may have been raised at this casting announcement and Cheryl might have had to fight to prove herself in this role, she well and truly calls the shots in an accomplished performance.
Cheryl consistently impresses with her acting range, particularly shining in Jenny’s angrier moments where the fear really comes across. While she is sharing the stage with three performers who each have more acting experience, she truly holds her own in a surprisingly fantastic performance which should prove her untouchable to any nay-sayers who doubted her abilities. To summarise her performance in 3 words: Cheryl’s a star.
Jennys husband Sam is played by Scott Karim – far more animated in the role than in previous incarnations. He delivers a great performance and has a great rapport with his stage wife Cheryl, despite the fractured nature of their relationship throughout the play. Louise Ford is exceptional as Lauren – even without saying anything, she is utterly watchable thanks to a constant display of facial expressions and body language. As Lauren gets drunker, Louise’s performance becomes more assured and was a joy to witness.
The main cast are completed by Jake Wood, returning to the show (as a last minute replacement for Hugo Chegwin) as Ben having originated the role in its first West End run. Consistently scene-stealing, the loud and brash Ben provides most of the comic moments which are played to perfection. His extremely differing relationships with his three fellow performers provides a lot of the dynamic which makes 2.22 so entertaining.
2.22 – A Ghost Story is a show that has continued to surprise and shock people since its initial run. Originally billed as a stop gap at the Noel Coward Theatre, it has gone out to great success – not just in the West End but around the world. It continues to surprise both in its unexpected casting choices and in the accomplished way said cast actually perform the show. This is a play that continues to get better in each and every production with every cast member adding something new to the role. Thankfully, the only scares here this time around are in the story in itself and nothing to do with the cast. I can’t wait to see where 2.22 goes next. My West End bingo card is ready!
2.22 – A Ghost Story plays at the Lyric Theatre until 23rd April. Tickets from www.222aghoststory.com
Photos by Helen Murray