2:22: A Ghost Story

Danny Robins
Tristan Baker and Charlie Parsons for Runaway Entertainment
Grand Opera House, York

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Fiona Wade (Jenny) and George Rainsford (Sam) Credit: Johan Persson
Jay McGuinness (Ben) Credit: Johan Persson
Vera Chok (Laura) Credit: Johan Persson

Given the popularity of spooky stage chillers such as The Woman in Black (based on Susan Hill’s classic novella) and Ghost Stories (from the twisted minds of Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman), it’s surprising that we don’t see more paranormal plays capturing the public imagination. For that reason, my curiosity was piqued when 2:22: A Ghost Story premièred at the Noël Coward Theatre back in August 2021.

While 2:22 is partly known for providing a vehicle for a series of high-profile West End debuts (Lily Allen, Cheryl Cole and—recently announced—Stacey Dooley), it has also gained a reputation for being a rare example of a play which succeeds in creating a palpable sense of dread and unease. This is hardly surprising, however, when one considers the background of its writer. An avowed ghost enthusiast since childhood, Danny Robins spends much of his time interviewing the general public about their ghostly encounters in podcasts such as Haunted and Uncanny.

As creepy as 2:22 is, however, it’s the nuanced way in which Robins has sketched his four central characters that makes the play compelling. First-time mother Jenny (Fiona Wade) has recently moved into a new home with her loving (albeit conceited) husband Sam (George Rainsford). After a series of inexplicable events—the most disturbing of which take place at 2:22 in the morning—Jenny becomes convinced that her new abode is haunted and that her baby daughter might be in danger.

Tensions erupt during a dinner party in which Jenny and Sam are joined by the latter’s university friend, Lauren (Vera Chok)—a psychologist with an alcohol problem—and her affable builder boyfriend, Ben (Jay McGuinness), whose belief in the supernatural clashes with Sam’s science-based scepticism. In desperation, Jenny persuades her two guests to stay up until 2:22, and… I won’t say anything else about the plot because we were kindly implored not to divulge any secrets at the end of the show.

2:22 is not a profound play by any means, but it is a highly enjoyable one. Robins ratchets up the tension with great finesse, and while some clever audience members will correctly guess the ending, for me at least it was a not a foregone conclusion.

All four performers impress in their roles. Fiona Wade skilfully captures Jenny’s mounting sense of paranoia and this is powerfully conveyed through her restless, agitated body language. Lauren is arguably the most complex character in the play, and Vera Chok does a fine job of embodying the character’s contradictory impulses.

Best known for his days in the boy band The Wanted—and, of course, his victorious stint on Strictly Come Dancing—I was pleasantly surprised by Jay McGuinness’s confident and seemingly effortless performance. Bob is the most broadly drawn of all the characters, but McGuinness invests him with warmth and solidity. Finally, George Rainsford excels in the role of Sam, whose smug exterior masks an inner vulnerability.

Anna Fleischle’s set design is beautifully realised, neatly capturing Sam and Jenny’s attempts to put a modern face on a 1970s house. There are also some enjoyably shameless jump scares courtesy of Lucy Carter (lighting) and Ian Dickinson (sound).

2:22 is an immaculate production and one of the best nights I’ve ever had at York’s Grand Opera House. If you have a taste for the macabre, I urge you to seek out the show before its tour ends in Salford this June.

Reviewer: James Ballands

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