If there is one positive that has come from the pandemic, it's that new writing has had the opportunity to play in West End venues - something that might not have happened otherwise. One such example is new ghost story 2:22 which takes up temporary residence in the Noel Coward Theatre, ahead of the return of Dear Evan Hansen in October.
Announced rather unexpectedly in June, this production made headlines mainly due to the fact singer Lily Allen was making her West End debut. The story focuses on a couple who buy a new house but hear noises every night at the same time. I'll leave you to guess what time that is. Over the course of one evening, the mystery unfolds at a dinner party with two of their friends drawing to a climax you will not see coming.
There has been a lot of speculation over whether Lily would be up to the task of appearing in a West End play, and I am pleased to report that her acting is not the scariest thing about the play. As Jenny, she is on stage for more time than any of the other characters and though she may struggle with the emotional depth in certain parts of the role, she is more than capable and shows that there are definitely more strings to her bow and more acting in the future is all but a certainty for her.
Her husband Sam is played by the wonderful Hadley Fraser - the character that has the most interaction with all three of the other characters, he forms three very different relationships in a performance that beautifully showcases his versatility as a character actor. Mysterious at times while challenging and set in his ways, his rational thinking about what could actually be going on allows the audience to unfold what is happening in the story.
Also making her West End debut is Julia Chan brilliantly playing Lauren - a character that can quite happily sit in the background while playing more of a role than she wants to let on. The standout performance for me has to go to Jake Wood playing her partner Ben. To me, Ben was the most developed character out of the main four. Unapologetically brash and opionated at times, he had some hilarious one-liners playing a character that was my personal favourite to watch on the stage.
The true star of 2:22 is Danny Robins - the man responsible for writing the play. Known for his podcast The Battersea Poltergiest, he has created a show whose writing verges on genius. The intricacies of the writing don't come to the surface at first, but on reflection have far more depth than they originally appeared. No spoilers obviously but I did not see the twist that concludes the show coming, but when I thought back to the writing of the show, I picked up on many ways the twist was signposted - this is a testament to the genius of the writing. The more I thought about it, the more things I picked up on. and this stayed in my thoughts for the next couple of days. To have a play that stays with you long after you have left the theatre speaks volumes for the strength of it. 2:22 is a play that would benefit a repeat visit so you can look at it all in a new light and really apreciate the cleverness of the writing.
Horror in theatre is a hard thing to get right and to say 2:22 is pretty scary wouldn't be entirely accurate. Chilling at times, this is more a domestic story focusing on a group of characters with the backdrop of a ghost story. The show is surprisingly hilarious at times with witty dialogue prominent throughout. The jump scares come from the screams that come seemingly out of nowhere. A brilliant effect of a pulsing red neon light surrounding the stage also adds to the effect. Fantastic set design from Anna Fleischle alows a fairly normal looking house to reveal surprises with a couple of brilliant special effects making the show resemble a Paranormal Activity movie at times.
2:22 - A Ghost Story may not be exactly what you expect. Don't go in there expecting to spill your popcorn everywhere - though, to be fair, put your popcorn away - you're in a theatre, for crying out loud. The clock counting down to the events of 2:22 throughout the play adds to the tension that you know something is coming but don't know exactly what. While the wait to get to the time may be frustrating at times and be a little slow to start with, it is more than worth the wait. The payoff in the show is satisfying and surprising at the same time. The trick to this show is to not take it all at face value and keep thinking about it after you have left the theatre - that is the key to truly appreciating this fantastically written piece of art.
2:22 - A Ghost Story plays at the Noel Coward Theatre until October 16th. Tickets available from https://www.delfontmackintosh.co.uk/whats-on/two-twenty-two-a-ghost-story
Photos by Helen Murray