2:22 – A Ghost Story at Noël Coward Theatre
Despite the summer sun and overbearing heat, viewers are transported to a cold, autumn Halloween with 2:22 – A Ghost Story. From the first second, which involves red lights, bass-heavy music and a scream, an ominous and foreboding mood hangs over the production. It’s instantly cold, and not just because of the functioning air conditioning unit in the Noel Coward Theatre.
Unlike everyone in the packed theatre, Jenny (Lily Allen) is alone. Her husband, Sam (Hadley Fraser), is on a business trip when she begins to hear footsteps from her newborn baby’s bedroom at exactly 2:22am each night. Instead of calling the Ghost Busters to deal with the issue, Sam invites his friend Lauren (Julia Chan) and her new partner Ben (Jake Wood) to experience the horror with them at a dinner party that would make Agatha Christie proud. In a fashion similar to the stories of the famed author, there is a mystery that keeps everyone guessing until the alloted time arrives.
On the side of scepticism is stereotypically doubtful spouse and scientist, Sam, and in the believer’s corner is Jenny, the classic paranoid wife. They have even thrown in a psychiatrist for good measure with the addition of Lauren, while classic cockney builder Ben brings a welcome contrast. They sound like tropes because they are, but somehow the cast and writer (Danny Robins) manage to actually develop them. Not just the neurotic stereotype, the protagonist was brought up in a strict Christian household, unable to truly live until meeting her partner. Not just the disbelieving astronomer, Sam is someone who wants the best for his other half, which is why he forces his views so strongly onto her. Not just the judgmental psychiatrist, their friend Lauren is able to disconnect and see from Jenny’s perspective, despite being so closely aligned to her husband. And Ben… well, Ben is just the cockney builder, but he is definitely the highlight.
Notable for his soap opera performances, Wood surprises with a humorous take that is far from the melodrama everyone expects upon seeing his face. He seems to be having the most fun with his role and it is reflected in the delivery. His character is a welcome reprieve from the horror and severity of everything else. Robins knows how to do horror right if his extremely popular podcast The Battersea Poltergeist is anything to go by, but the most shocking element is the comedy. The show is stacked full of unexpected one-liners. Another surprise is Allen, being known more for pop music than a stage career. This is her debut play, though it doesn’t show in the slightest.
Whether on team sceptic or believer, there is definitely something to take away from this production. The goosebumps that every viewer seems to have are a result of the raw emotion displayed by the actors, not fear. Or maybe it is down to the jump scares, which are used sparingly and tactically. There is an obvious curveball that any armchair detective would pick up on, but hidden around the corner is the biggest twist of all. However, more than the surprises, the show is about the dramatic turns it takes to get to the end, and the standing ovation at the end is certainly well deserved.
Photo: Helen Murray
2:22 – A Ghost Story is at Noël Coward Theatre from 3rd August until 15th October 2021. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.