Thursday, 2 February 2023

REVIEW: 2:22 A Ghost Story at The Lyric Theatre

2.22 - A Ghost Story is quite a West End phenomenon, not so much because of its subject of paranormal activity in the bedroom of an old-fashioned London house but because of its ability to attract an audience on the basis of the star casting as Jenny, the young mother who reports experiencing some disturbing activity at 2.22 am on each of the last few nights. Lily Allen (5.1 m twitter & 1.5m Instagram followers) opened the show at the Noel Coward in August 2021, Giovanni Fletcher (465k Twitter & 2m Instagram followers) played the Gielgud, Laura Whitmore (438k twitter & 1.5 m Instagram followers) played at the Criterion and now Cheryl (formerly known as Cheryl Cole) with 5.5 m Twitter and 3.4m Instagram followers stars in the show for the short season at the Lyric. No doubt the jubilant producers are already planning its next surprising cast announcement and another move of venue at the end of the current run. The casting is clearly designed to appeal to the followers of these young high-profile stars and seems to be working very effectively so reviews will hardly affect sales as each star brings the publicity and fan base to ensure a successful run.

Cheryl makes her stage debut in the role as Jenny and once you have adjusted to her Tyneside accent which means occasionally will lose a few words, she makes a solid job of conveying the love of a new mother, the concern at the mysterious noises, and the anger at her disbelieving husband. After relatively nervous and contained opening scenes, she burst into life as the mystery unfolds and we are drawn more into the simmering tensions between her and her husband and their guests. It is a very credible and convincing performance suggesting this could be the start of a new career for her.

Her husband Sam is played with an arrogant super clever attitude by Scott Karim, a man with a lot to say but who won’t lift a finger to help. He has just returned from a trip to the Isle of Sark and claims to have lost his phone. Their guests are the unlikely couple of Sam’s old University friend Lauren played by Louise Ford and the East End geezer Ben, with Jake Wood returning to the role he created on its first outing. Over the course of the evening, they reveal their own ghost stories and explore the truths and myths of ghost theories in a witty and entertaining script by Danny Robins littered with visual and spoken clues as to what we are observing. To say more would spoil the twists and turns but it will keep you guessing until the 2:22 moment.

The set design by Anna Fleischle acts as a fifth character, a curious room with peeled back wallpaper revealing past history, an unfeasibly high ceiling where the haunted bedroom should be and a new modern door to the garden through which we experience the sight and sound of urban foxes mating in high pitched squeals that add to the tension. Dominating the room are two digital clocks which show the passing of time as the evening progresses towards the moment of truth. Matthew Dunster’s direction is taut and pacy with big laughs to break the tension, a few surprises to ramp it up again and strained relationships tested by events. It sweeps you along so there is hardly time to piece together the clues making the final reveal all the more enjoyable and leaving you piecing it all together on the way home.

The audiences will be full of Cheryl fans I am sure and as the lights dimmed at the start there were large whoops of delight from them as well as a standing ovation at the end and no doubt many will return for a second visit when the knowledge of the truth will add to the enjoyment of the key moments in the play. Certainly it is a play that will stand a second viewing although I might wait to see who plays Jenny next and what venue their West End tour continues to later this year! It is easy to see why this clever play is mentioned alongside the long running Woman in Black and the Dyson and Nymen’s spooky Ghost Stories. What’s more it will attract a younger demographic to the West End and that is a very good news for Producers. 

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Stalls Row K | Price of Ticket: £50

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