2:22 A Ghost Story
Written by Danny Robins
Directed by Matthew Dunster and Isabel Marr
Tuesday 7th – Saturday 11th November
It took the West End by storm and now it’s here in Leicester, 2:22 A Ghost Story – the play that has made headlines as much for its casting choices as its plot. Cheryl [Cole], Lily Allen and Jaime Winstone have all been attached to the show. Tonight, it’s the turn of Louisa Lytton (Jenny), Joe Absolom (Ben) Charlene Boyd (Lauren) and Nathaniel Curtis (Sam) to tread the possibly haunted boards, with support from Natalie Boakye and Grant Kilburn.
Jenny believes there’s a ghost in her new home, but husband Sam is having none of it. He champions science and reason, over emotion and gut feelings. Things come to a head during a dinner party with old friend Lauren and new partner Ben. What is happening at 2:22am every night in baby Phoebe’s room? What are the strange footsteps and noises? The four decide to stay up that very night so that they, and perhaps the audience, can find out once and for all.
Let’s start with the magnificent set by Anna Fleischle. We’re in the open-plan kitchen/dining area of a Victorian property. There are reminders of a bygone era in picture rails, cornicing, ceiling roses and deep skirting boards. Yet, this is where old meets new. Building work has been undertaken to open up the space with skylights and huge glass doors that open onto the garden.
The kitchen is a fashionable charcoal grey, with requisite matching radiator, and filled with aspirational accoutrements. It could be seen as sterile, but there are personal touches too – a bib embroidered with the baby’s name, her highchair, and the odd toy. What is more significant is the wallpaper which acts as a palimpsest of owners past and present. We can see different styles and patterns protruding through and as the play progresses, this notion of ‘layers’ becomes ever more significant.
In a ghost story, lighting and sound are key to success. You need to unsettle and unnerve your audience if suspense is to build. Lighting by Lucy Carter is particularly effective at doing this, cutting out at just the right moments and when it does, the bold red outline around the stage acts as a warning, suggesting danger lies within.
Sound by Ian Dickinson is also crucial. ‘Angel’ by Massive Attack plays through Alexa, Phoebe can be heard gurgling on the baby monitor and foxes in the garden, doing what comes naturally to foxes, contribute to the notion of ‘layers’, the rational versus the irrational, and the atmosphere of uncertainty that pervades the house. For the jump scares to work, Sound must be spot-on, and it is.
The central quartet work well together. Lytton conveys the worry and fatigue of being a new mum. Constantly on the go as she serves up food or coffee, the stress she feels is conveyed not just by what she says, but how she says it. Her anger simmers along with her risotto, threatening to boil over as husband Sam dismisses her claims of supernatural happenings.
Curtis plays the ‘mansplaining’ know-it-all to tremendous effect. The character irritates and needles me with his condescension and dogmatic opinions. This is down to Curtis’s portrayal not just the script by Danny Robins. Curtis is a huge presence, both physically and in terms of performance. He dwarfs the kitchen units and the diminutive Lytton which suits the character’s somewhat overbearing personality.
Boyd and Absolom also convince as the outwardly successful Lauren and the ‘wide-boy’ Ben. I love how their costumes reflect their respective character traits. He is kitted out in a slim fit checked suit, tight shirt and loafers without socks. He even has a pocket square. Ben dresses in a way that we know the more casual Sam despises. Similarly, the uber-glamorous Lauren wears a beautifully tailored, deep-burgundy trouser suit. Her sky-high stilettos and cleavage contrast with Jenny’s more practical and buttoned-up affair. As the evening progresses, and characters unravel, so do the hair and costumes.
Robins’ script is packed full of concepts and scientific theories. Themes of fear, loneliness, religion, and time are brought to the fore. At the start, characters do talk over one another. This may be a deliberate choice by the directors to replicate naturalistic dialogue, but conversation is somewhat snatched, and I would like to see more time for the lines to settle and breathe, rather than the machine gun effect that takes place. As the play progresses this becomes less of an issue, but if we are entering into a debate about the paranormal, I would like to be able to hear and process all sides of the argument.
Is 2:22 truly frightening? I am not sure that it is. It has suspense and tension, and the previously mentioned jump scares, but it doesn’t chill me to the bone. Notwithstanding, Robins’ writing makes you question your own position as believer, sceptic, or agnostic which I like very much.
The ending comes with the plea ‘Shhh, please don’t tell,’ so there will be no spoilers here, but if you fancy a spookily atmospheric evening with a surprising amount of humour then head on down to the Curve.
Age recommendation 12+
Running time: 2 hours including a 20-minute interval.